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Zimbabwe Court Grants Bail to New York Freelancer After 3 Weeks in Prison

Freelance journalist for the New York Times, Jeffery Moyo, center, leaves the Bulawayo prison in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, June 16, 2021.
Freelance journalist for the New York Times, Jeffery Moyo, center, leaves the Bulawayo prison in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, June 16, 2021.

Zimbabwean prison authorities released New York Times freelancer Jeffrey Moyo on Wednesday, one day after the High Court in Bulawayo granted him bail.

Police arrested the 37-year-old in May, alleging he helped two of the U.S. newspaper's journalists illegally enter Zimbabwe.

Moyo's attorney, Doug Coltart, a Zimbabwean human rights lawyer, said Moyo should have been released a day earlier, but prison officials noted a problem with the warrant of liberation.

Speaking from Bulawayo via a messaging app, Coltart voiced anger about his client being detained an extra day.

"It's a typical tactic which is used to extend the detention of prisoners after they have been granted bail, which is why the legal team specially requested to see the warrant of liberation before leaving the Magistrates Court," Coltart said. "That request was denied, which is why when prison officials started claiming that there was an error on it late in the evening last night (Tuesday) again, the legal team requested to see the warrant of liberation. That request was again denied."

Government officials were not immediately available to comment on Moyo's case.

Moyo was arrested on May 26, along with a Zimbabwe Media Commission official, Thabang Manhika, for allegedly processing fake accreditations for two South Africa-based Times journalists who entered Zimbabwe last month and have since been deported.

Western diplomats and international press freedom groups voiced concerns about the arrests.

A lower court had denied Moyo and Manhika bail, saying they were a danger to national security because they helped U.S. journalists interview Zimbabweans without the government's permission.

"The state papers on appeal essentially admit that the grounds they advanced for opposing (Moyo's) bail in the magistrates court were baseless and frivolous and essentially they do not have any case against and that he is not a national security threat as they alleged," Coltart said.

The government has dismissed accusations that Zimbabwe is disregarding media freedom.

On social media, The Information Ministry secretary, Ndabaningi Mangwana, said Moyo and Manhika had been arrested for breaking immigration laws.

Tabani Moyo of the Media Institute of Southern Africa — who is no relation to Jeffrey Moyo — said he welcomed Jeffrey Moyo's release and was looking forward to the trial.

"Trial of Jeffrey Moyo is a trial on fairness in that you are only guilty when proven such," he said. "Fairness is a key element in discharge of our judiciary services. So we are saying it's fairness on trial that he is out on bail. It is the first step in that process. And we hope that to the conclusion of the case, fairness will be at the center of the trial as it should be to every Zimbabwean."

No trial dates have been set for Manhika and Moyo. The two men face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.