3 jailed for transporting broadcast equipment

JOHANNESBURG — Continuing President Robert Mugabe’s intimidation of foreign journalists, a Zimbabwe court Monday sentenced three South Africans to prison for six months for possessing illegal broadcasting equipment belonging to U.K. satcaster BSkyB’s Sky News.

Bernet Hasani Sono, Resemate Boy Chauke and Simon Maodi all pleaded guilty to unauthorized possession of broadcasting equipment. Sono and Musimani were given a further six weeks in jail for breaking immigration laws.

Matabeleland provincial magistrate John Masimba also ordered that the equipment and vehicle transporting it be forfeited to the state.

The trio’s lawyer, Tawengwa Hara, said he would appeal.

The three were arrested May 23 at a police roadblock in Mbalabala on the highway to the Beit bridge border post with South Africa. They told police they did not know what was in the boxes but had been hired to transport them to Johannesburg.

Mugabe hopes to deter foreign journalists from reporting the second round of presidential elections later this month by threatening them with stiff prison sentences.

Sky News was one of many foreign TV networks banned from covering the first round of elections March 29, but it managed to get two reporters into Zimbabwe. Emma Hurd and Stuart Ramsey appeared on air live from Bulawayo and Harare in defiance of the government ban, broadcasting via broadband satellite phones.

The satellite dish the drivers were caught with was reportedly smuggled into Zimbabwe during the March general election but not used, and the increasingly tense situation in the country had led BSkyB to decide to pull it out now.

Zimbabwean Craig Eddy, the owner of the factory where the satellite dish was stored, has also been arrested but not yet charged.

The network has come in for criticism in Zimbabwe for failing to protect the drivers and others who helped Sky.

Last Friday, Sky News’ Johannesburg bureau chief Dan Williams said the men were not Sky News staff. “We are investigating the matter,” he said, declining further comment.

But after the men’s sentencing, the web issued a statement, saying: “We deplore the harsh sentence given to the South African drivers. We will be appealing this and put our trust in the Zimbabwean justice system.”

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