Court frees journalists tortured for coup story

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The Independent Online
A ZIMBABWEAN court yesterday freed on bail two journalists who had been tortured by military police during illegal detention.

Custom Kambachwa, a magistrate, released Mark Chavunduka, 34, the editor of the independent Standard newspaper, and Ray Choto, 36, a reporter. Both had marks left by cigarette burns and electric shocks. About 100 supporters cheered Mr Chavunduka and Mr Choto as they left the court- house.

The men had been detained after reporting on a suspected coup plot last week. The military's fierce reaction to the report has triggered speculation that a purge may have taken place in the army.

Simon Bull, a lawyer who represents the journalists, said they had been subjected to electric shocks and their heads were submerged in drums of water in a suffocation torture method known as "the submarine". They were also made to roll in wet grass to clean blood from their bodies after being beaten, Mr Bull said.

Mr Kambachwa released the men on 10,000 Zimbabwean dollars (pounds 150) bail to reappear before him on 22 February on charges of publishing falsified information likely to cause fear, alarm and despondency.

Mr Chavunduka was detained last week by the military after his paper said 23 soldiers were arrested on 17 December for allegedly inciting fellow soldiers to overthrow the President, Robert Mugabe. The High Court ruled that the military had no jurisdiction over civilians and threatened to arrest the Defence Minister, Moven Mahachi, if Mr Chavunduka was not handed over to civilian police and charged.

Mr Bull said military intelligence officers told Mr Choto during torture that President Mugabe had signed his death warrant and he was to be killed. Mr Choto said he believed them "because he had been so badly tortured".

The newspaper's publisher, Clive Wilson, said the journalists were tortured to divulge their sources but they gave no information on the origin of the report. "This is absolutely disgraceful, it's like something out of Nazi Germany," Mr Wilson said. (AP)

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