A magistrate in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, on Monday, granted bail to Zimbabwean journalist Nqobani Ndlovu who is charged by police with defamation, but he could continue to be held in a court lockup for another seven days following a state legal maneuver.
Magistrate Sibongile Msipa set bail of US$100 for Ndlovu, charged by police with defamation in connection with an article saying the national force was recruiting retirees and war vets to bolster its ranks ahead of possible elections next year.
According to Ndlovu’s lawyer, Josphat Tshuma, the magistrate ruled there was no merit to the state claim that the risk was high that Ndlovu would not show up for trial, nor to arguments that the alleged offense was very serious.
The state invoked Section 121 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act, which suspends the bail order for seven days pending an appeal of the ruling.
Tshuma told VOA Studio 7 reporter Tatenda Gumbo that he has asked the prosecutors to file the appeal by Tuesday. He said the state's invocation of Section 121 is sending a message of intimidation to other journalists reporting on sensitive matters.
Chief Executive Officer Raphael Khumalo of Alpha Media Holdings, publisher of The Standard, a weekly, said the prosecution of Ndlovu is intended to warn other journalists that certain institutions are “sacred” and must not be the subject of reports.
Khumalo told reporter Patience Rusere that the paper stands by its story that competitive police exams were cancelled in favor of hiring police retirees and war veterans.
Press Freedom advocacy groups continue to call for Ndlovu’s release, among them the International Federation of Journalists which demanded his unconditional liberation.
International Federation of Journalists Program Director Gabriel Ayite Baglo said media progess seen under the unity government since early 2009 is being rolled back by the current trend of harassment and arrests related to prospective elections.