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Zimbabwe: Amnesty condemns journalist deportation

Zimbabwe: Amnesty International condemns deportation of journalist

Journalist Andrew Meldrum faces imminent deportation from Zimbabwe by the government as part of its continuing clampdown on freedom of expression in the country.

"By attempting to forcibly deport him, the Zimbabwean authorities are proving to the world, once again, that press freedom in Zimbabwe is not a reality," Amnesty International said today.

The order to deport Andrew Meldrum, who is resident in Harare and works for the United Kingdom-based paper The Guardian, follows ongoing harassment and renewed claims by government authorities that he was continuing to write negative articles about Zimbabwe.

While Andrew Meldrum was speaking to reporters after a meeting with immigration officials, he was grabbed by police and driven to the airport. His whereabouts are presently unknown but there are strong fears that he may be placed on one of the next flights leaving Zimbabwe. His lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, obtained an urgent court order for Andrew Meldrum to be produced in the High Court later on 16 May, and to restrain the authorities from deporting him.

Andrew Meldrum had presented himself to immigration authorities on 13 May after spending a week in hiding following a night-time raid by officials on his Harare home while he was away. He was ordered to surrender his passport and residence permit on 13 May. In a meeting with immigration officials on 16 May, he was ordered to leave the country. Andrew Meldrum has been fighting a deportation order since June 2002 when he was acquitted of charges under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) of publishing a false story.

In its latest report, Zimbabwe: Rights Under Siege, Amnesty International documented the systematic and deliberate erosion of respect for fundamental freedoms in Zimbabwe by a government intent on using any means to silence dissent. "We can only hope that this latest case can spur the international community, particularly Southern African Development Community leaders, into publicly condemning the Zimbabwean government for stifling freedom of expression" Amnesty International stressed.

Background

Andrew Meldrum, who has worked in Zimbabwe for 23 years, is one of several journalists taken to court since President Robert Mugabe's government passed tough media laws last year.

In June 2002, he was the first journalist to be charged and tried under Section 80 of AIPPA with "abusing journalistic privilege by publishing a falsehood" in connection with a report regarding the alleged beheading of a woman by ZANU-PF supporters. Although he was acquitted, within hours of the ruling he was served with a deportation order by the Ministry of Home Affairs. Following a High Court application, his deportation was suspended and the matter was referred to the Supreme Court. No date had been set for his Supreme Court hearing.

On 7 May Zimbabwe's Supreme Court struck down provisions of AIPPA which made it an offence to publish "falsehoods", after the government conceded they were unconstitutional.


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