By: Michael Hartnack, Associated Press Writer
(AP) A judge on Monday acquitted an American journalist charged under Zimbabwe’s new draconian media laws with publishing a false story.
Judge Godfrey Macheyo acquitted Andrew Meldrum because prosecutors failed to refute his claim he took all reasonable steps to verify his story on the killing of an opposition supporter. The report was later proved false.
Had he been found guilty, Meldrum, a 50-year-old correspondent for Britain’s Guardian newspaper, could have been jailed for up to two years.
“I feel I am vindicated. I am delighted,” Meldrum said.
But immediately after, immigration officials ordered Meldrum, a permanent resident who has lived in Zimbabwe for two decades, to leave the country within 24 hours.
Since the new media law was signed in March, 13 independent journalists have been charged with publishing false information.
Many of the cases stem from a story in the independent Daily News in April that reported a woman had been hacked to death by ruling party supporters and decapitated in front of her two children
Police said the killing never happened and the newspaper retracted the story, saying it was tricked by an informant seeking to discredit the paper, which is often critical of the government.
Meldrum wrote a story about the report for the Guardian, and his trial was the first in Zimbabwe under the new media law.
The increasingly authoritarian government of President Robert Mugabe has cracked down on the press, the judiciary, opposition officials and human rights workers during the last two years of political and economic chaos in the southern African country.