By Professor Matodzi
Masvingo, June 27, 2015 – Lawyers from the country’s leading legal defence group on Friday mounted a legal bid to set free Patrick Chitongo, a freelance journalist, who was imprisoned for eight months after he was convicted for contravening one of the country’s obnoxious laws, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).
Chitongo was on Tuesday convicted by Chiredzi Magistrate Tafadzwa Mhlanga and sentenced to serve eight months in jail for allegedly publishing an unregistered newspaper, The Southern Mirror.
The freelance journalist had initially been slapped with a 12 month jail term, but Magistrate Mhlanga suspended four months for five years and ordered him to serve eight months imprisonment for publishing and printing a newspaper, The Southern Mirror, without a valid registration from the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) in contravention of Section 72 (1) of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). Chitongo had been on trial together with his co-accused Givemore Kudzwida, Courage Bandera and Dadirai Musokweni, who were acquitted by Magistrate Mhlanga on Tuesday 23 June 2015.
State prosecutors accused Chitongo of contravening Section 72 (1) of AIPPA by operating a mass media service without a certificate.
But Chitongo’s lawyer Martin Mureri of Matutu and Mureri Legal Practitioners, a member of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, on Friday filed a notice of appeal in the High Court seeking to set aside both conviction and sentence and that the freelance journalist should be found not guilty and acquitted.
Mureri argued that Magistrate Mhlanga erred and misdirected himself in convicting and sentencing Chitongo, a father of two children.
Mureri contended that the Magistrate erred by making a finding that Chitongo had published the Southern Mirror for there is only one copy of the newspaper, which is a dummy copy.
The human rights lawyer argued that the Magistrate erred by relying on the interpretation by ZMC chief executive officer Tafataona Mahoso on what a dummy copy should look like for he is not the authority.
Mureri argued that Chitongo did not contravene AIPPA for he didn’t publish the newspaper but just printed a dummy copy as a requirement for registration of the publication with the ZMC.
The lawyer also indicated that Magistrate Mhlanga misdirected himself by indicating that the Southern Mirror had circulated in Chiredzi.
Chitongo becomes the second journalist in recent years to be convicted and sentenced for contravening AIPPA after Dennis Kagonye, the publisher and editor of a Mashonaland West provincial newspaper, The Weekly Mirror, who was arrested in 2012 for operating a media house without a valid licence from the ZMC.
Kagonye who was sentenced to serve two months in prison for violating the provisions of AIPPA was however spared a custodial sentence after Magistrate Fanny Nyakudya gave him an option of a $100 fine.
Media, Information and Broadcasting Services Minister Jonathan Moyo is infamously credited with crafting the controversial AIIPA which has been condemned for impinging on media freedom and freedom of expression. Under AIPPA, the government shut down some newspapers among them the Daily News, Daily News on Sunday and The Tribune.
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