By Dominic Ponsford
Sunday Telegraph chief foreign correspondent Toby Harnden has told
Press Gazette of his surprise at being released along with photographer
Julian Simmonds from a Zimbabwean jail this week.
The pair spent ten days behind bars after being arrested in the southern constituency of Manyame outside a polling station.
were charged with “practising journalism without accreditation” but
successfully argued that they were in the country as tourists.
39, and Simmonds, 45, faced up to two years in prison but were freed
last Friday and deported after the prosecution failed to prove its case.
Harnden said he greeted his release with: “A feeling of great relief and I have to say some surprise.
were very grateful that although the Zimbabwe justice system is
completely rotten…the magistrate judged the case on its legal merits
and I think very courageously found us not guilty because the
prosecution was incompetent.”
He went on to explain: “We never
hid the fact that our profession was journalism and the magistrate must
have wondered for what possible reason two journalists from the Sunday
Telegraph could have been at a polling station in a rural part of
Zimbabwe apart from reporting on an election.
“But thankfully he judged the case strictly on its merits rather than taking it as read that we were guilty.”
The prosecution were unable to find the necessary notes and pictures to prove that the pair had been practising as journalists.
However, their deportation still means they will be unable to enter Zimbabwe again while the Mugabe regime stays in power.
said: “I really hope what happened to us won’t prevent other people
reporting on what is happening there because the Zimbabwean people are
really suffering and are at the mercy of this liberator turned
dictator, and it is important that people reveal to the world what is
happening in Zimbabwe.”Harnden revealed in the Sunday Telegraph this
week that members of the ruling Zanu-PF party had been outside polling
stations on election day beating drums and warning voters that the way
they had cast their ballot would be discovered.
Harnden and Simmonds were this week back in London recovering from their ordeal.