The trial in Zimbabwe of a freelance reporter who worked for The New York Times, a case seen as a litmus test for press freedom in the South African nation, was suspended on Friday after three days, including the testimony of a key state witness who failed to produce the documents underlying the case.
Reporter, Jeffrey Moyo, 37 is accused of fabricating accreditation papers for two Times journalists, Christina Goldbaum and Joao Silva, who flew from South Africa to the southwestern Zimbabwean city of Bulawayo last May for a reporting trip.
They were ordered to be sent out in a few days. Mr. Moyo was arrested and charged weeks later and could face up to ten years in prison, a fine, or both. He pleaded not guilty.
The trial in Bulawayo, which began on Wednesday and was originally scheduled to last four days, will resume on February 14. – pending testimony and cross-examination.
Lawyers stated that Mr. Moyo did nothing wrong and followed the proper procedures in obtaining the accreditation documents. They argued that the Zimbabwean authorities had no evidence that the documents had been forged – in essence, claiming that the government had ulterior motives for deporting Ms. Goldbaum and Mr. Silva.
Prosecutors admitted in court documents when Mr. Moyo was released on bail last June that their case was on “shaky ground.”
Additional shortcomings in their case came to light early in the trial, when prosecutors were unable to produce original documents they believed were fabricated—only photographic images. Among them was a mobile phone image that was captured on a mobile phone belonging to the state’s first witness, Bothwell Nkopilo, an immigration officer.
Questions also arose from the testimony and cross-examination of Mr. Nkopilo, who said he visited Ms. Goldbaum and Mr. Silva on May 8 at their hotel after receiving what he described as an anonymous message stating that they were engaged in questionable activities. . Both were then expelled.
But Mr. Nkopilo did not inform the police or the Zimbabwe Media Commission, the agency responsible for the accreditation documents. The immigration authorities did not seize the documents in question.
Asked if he could provide a mobile phone with images of documents, Mr. Nkopilo said he no longer had it. Asked if he could provide a diary of the events of May 8, which the immigration authorities are required to keep, Mr. Nkopilo said that it had been stolen from his car.
During cross-examination of Mr. Moyo’s lawyers, Doug Coltart and Beatrice Mthetwa, Mr. Nkopilo stated that he was hearing impaired and was unable to understand some of the questions, prompting a rebuke from Judge Mark Nzira, senior judge considering case. who said, “I know what you hear.”
Mr. Nkopilo’s testimony appears to have helped underscore what the defense called a serious flaw in the state’s case—the allegation that the accreditation papers were fabricated.
“The theory that was presented to the witness,” Mr. Coltart said, “was that the real reason they deported the two foreign nationals was not because they had fake accreditation cards, but because that they wanted to prevent them from doing their jobs as journalists and reporters.”
Mr. Coltart said that if the Zimbabwean authorities truly believed the accreditation cards were counterfeit, “they would certainly have confiscated the cards as evidence of a wrongdoing.”
Mr. Moyo was initially indicted along with co-defendant Thabang Manhika, an official of the Zimbabwe Media Commission. Mr. Manjica handed over the documents to Mr. Moyo, who then handed them over to Ms. Goldbaum and Mr. Silva.
The charges were split on Tuesday and Mr Manjica will face his own court later this month.
The Times and the Committee to Protect Journalists have criticized Mr Moyo’s prosecution, calling it a frightening statement by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government about the ability of journalists to do their job.
This week, Mr. Moyo received additional support from the South African National Editors’ Forum, which had previously expressed confidence in his innocence.
“We support him and believe that in the end media freedom will prevail,” said group chief executive Reggie Moalusi. “We reiterate that Moyo is a legitimate journalist and his credentials are fair. His right to practice journalism must be supported and respected by the Zimbabwean authorities.”