By Professor Matodzi
Chiredzi, July 2, 2015 – A Magistrate has set free a Zimbabwean
journalist who had been languishing in prison after he was convicted
for contravening one of the country’s much loathed media laws.
Patrick Chitongo, a freelance journalist based in Chiredzi, in
Masvingo province had spent more than one week in jail after
Magistrate Tafadzwa Mhlanga convicted and sentenced him last Tuesday
to serve 12 months in prison of which four months were suspended for
five years and ordered to serve eight months imprisonment for
publishing and printing a newspaper, The Southern Mirror, without a
valid registration from the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC).
The Magistrate said Chitongo had contravened Section 72 (1) of the
Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) by
publishing a newspaper without the ZMC’s authority.
Critics blame Media, Information and Broadcasting Services Minister
Jonathan Moyo for crafting the controversial AIIPA which has been
condemned for impinging on media freedom and freedom of expression.
But Magistrate Mhlanga on Thursday freed Chitongo on $200 bail after
his lawyer Martin Mureri of Matutu and Mureri Legal Practitioners, a
member of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and of the Media Lawyers
Network filed a bail application, which had been opposed by the State.
Mureri had filed the bail application on Wednesday pending the hearing
of an appeal of both his conviction and sentence, which was filed last
week in the High Court.
As part of his bail conditions, Magistrate Mhlanga ordered Chitongo to
report to the police once in a fortnight and to continue residing at
his given residential address.
State prosecutors accused Chitongo of contravening Section 72 (1) of
AIPPA by operating a mass media service without a certificate.
Chitongo’s co-accused Givemore Kudzwida, Courage Bandera and Dadirai
Musokweni, who had also been on trial were acquitted on last Tuesday
as they were not considered to have committed any offence.
The battle is not yet over for Chitongo as his lawyer has also filed a
notice of appeal in the High Court which is yet to be determined.
Chitongo’s lawyer argues that Magistrate Mhlanga erred and misdirected
himself in convicting and sentencing Chitongo, a father of two
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.
The Chiredzi based journalist is 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.