A Zimbabwe trial 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 country, was adjourned Friday after three days, including testimony of a key witness for the state, who was unable to produce the documents at the heart of the case.
The reporter, Jeffrey Moyo, 37, has been accused of fabricating accreditation documents for two Times journalists, Christina Goldbaum and João Silva, who flew from South Africa to the southwestern city of Bulawayo last May for a reporting trip.
They were evicted after a few days. Mr Moyo was arrested and charged a few weeks later, and could face up to 10 years in prison, a fine, or both. He has pleaded innocent.
The trial in Bulawayo, which began Wednesday and was expected to last four days, is set to resume on February 14. -expected witness statements and cross-examination.
Defense attorneys have said that Mr Moyo has done nothing wrong and followed proper procedures in securing the accreditation documents. They have argued that Zimbabwean authorities have no evidence to prove the documents were falsified – in fact they claimed the government had ulterior motives to expel 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”.
Further weaknesses in their case were revealed early in the trial when prosecutors were unable to provide originals of the documents they claim were fabricated — only photographs. These include an image of an image on a cell phone taken with a cell phone of 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 at their hotel on May 8 after receiving what he described as an anonymous tip that they were involved in questionable activities . Both were then sent away.
But Mr Nkopilo did not inform the police or the Zimbabwe Media Commission, the body responsible for accreditation documents. The immigration authorities have not seized the relevant documents.
When asked if he could provide the cell phone with document images, Mr. Nkopilo that he no longer owned it. When asked if he could provide a diary for immigration authorities to keep of the May 8 events, Mr. Nkopilo that it was stolen from his car.
During cross-examination by Mr. Moyo’s attorneys Doug Coltart and Beatrice Mtetwa, Mr. Nkopilo claimed that he had hearing difficulties and was unable to understand some questions, leading to a reprimand from Judge Mark Nzira, a senior judge hearing the case, who said, “I know you can hear.”
Mr Nkopilo’s testimony appeared to have helped highlight what the defense has called a major flaw in the state’s case — the claim that the accreditation documents were fabricated.
“The theory presented to the witness,” said Mr. Coltart, “was that the real reason they deported the two aliens was not because they had false accreditation cards, but precisely because they wanted to avoid doing their job as journalists. and reporting.”
Coltart said that if the Zimbabwean authorities really believed the accreditation cards were forged, “they would certainly have confiscated those cards as evidence of committing a criminal offence.”
Mr Moyo was originally charged with a co-defendant, Thabang Manhika, an official of the Zimbabwe Media Commission. Mr Manhika provided the documents to Mr Moyo, who then passed them on to Ms Goldbaum and Mr Silva.
The charges were separated on Tuesday and Mr Manhika will face his own trial later this month.
The Times and the Committee to Protect Journalists have criticized Mr Moyo’s prosecution as a chilling message from President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration about the ability of journalists to do their jobs.
Mr Moyo received further support this week from the South African National Editors Forum, which had previously expressed his innocence.
“We stand behind him and believe that media freedom would eventually prevail,” said Reggy Moalusi, the group’s executive director. “We reiterate that Moyo is a legitimate journalist and his credentials are above board. His right to work as a journalist must be respected and respected by the Zimbabwean authorities.”