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American journalist deported from Zimbabwe

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    NMU         ZIMBABWE         Newsgathering         Jul 16, 2002    

American journalist deported from Zimbabwe

  • A reporter charged with publishing falsehoods under Zimbabwe’s harsh new media laws was found not guilty but then expelled from the country he has lived in for more than 20 years.

Andrew Meldrum, a reporter working for Great Britain’s Guardian newspaper, has been ordered to leave Zimbabwe, his home for the last two decades, within 24 hours after being acquitted of charges of publishing false information.

Meldrum first appeared in court June 12 as the first of a dozen journalists to be tried on charges of “abuse of journalistic privileges by publishing falsehoods,” and was found not guilty of the crime on July 10.

The 50-year-old U.S. citizen could have faced up to two years in jail under the country’s new security and media laws, which essentially make publishing information critical of the government a crime. Meldrum pleaded not guilty, because he said he did everything in his power as a journalist to verify information about a woman’s death that, after publication, conflicted with government accounts.

Although Meldrum said he felt “vindicated” by the decision, he said that deportation constitutes an alternative means of prior restraint for Zimbabwe’s government.

“The Mugabe government does not want to see me, or any other journalist . . . holding the government accountable for the good of all the people of this country,” Meldrum told the BBC.

Not ready to leave behind the country he has lived in for 22 years, Meldrum is planning to appeal the decision.

The U.S. State Department has denounced the country’s “use of new draconian laws” that restrict the freedom of speech in Zimbabwe.

“The United States condemns the government of Zimbabwe’s continuing harassment of the free press and calls on it to cease all such action,” department spokesman Richard Boucher told the Associated Press.

Meldrum was arrested and jailed for publishing an account of an alleged beheading of a northwestern Zimbabwe woman by gangs working for the country’s ruling party, led by President Robert Mugabe. He picked up the story after reading accounts of the incident in Zimbabwe’s only independent daily news source, the Daily News.

Soon after, the government denied the killing happened. The Daily News retracted and apologized for its original article. Two of the paper’s reporters, Lloyd Mudiwa and Collin Chiwanza, were arrested April 30, the day before Meldrum was picked up.

Meldrum will be the fourth journalist deported from Zimbabwe in the last year and a half if last week’s ruling stands, according to the BBC.

CL

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