Three South Africans who were arrested after being found in possession
of broadcasting equipment bearing the Sky News TV logo have been jailed
for six months each, writes Gugu Ziyaphapha.
Magistrate John Masimba sentenced the three after finding them guilty of contravening the Postal and Telecommunications Act, which prohibits the possession and ownership of broadcasting equipment without a licence.
Lawyers representing Bernet Hassen Sono, Resemate Chauke, and Simon Maodi have appealed at the Bulawayo High Court against the six-month jail term.
Sono and Maodi were each given an additional six weeks in jail for failing to present themselves to immigration authorities when they entered the country through the Beitbridge Border Post.
The law provides for a fine and/or a prison term, but in handing down the six-month jail sentence, Magistrate Masimba said although the three are not broadcasters or owners of the broadcasting equipment, ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œmere possession of the equipment was an offenceÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â and a lesser sentence would ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œsend a wrong signalÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â to would-be offenders.
The magistrate also said the fact that Sono and Maodi entered the country illegally was
an indication that that they were bent on breaking the laws of the country. "The country would be sending a wrong signal if it treats leniently people who sneak into the country and commit an offence and are caught on their way out. It should be clear to everyone who allows himself to be used in the commission of an offence under the pretext of being hired that he or she should be equally prepared to face the consequences."
The magistrate also said since the owners of the broadcasting equipment did not come forward to plead their case it was impossible for the courts to have mercy on the three.
The government says the equipment belongs to Sky News TV.
After the trioÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s sentencing, the broadcaster broke its silence when it told AFP that: "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."
The South Africans were arrested after being caught with broadcasting equipment at police roadblock along the Bulawayo / Beitbridge road.
Further police investigations led to the discovery of a warehouse in Bulawayo where more broadcasting equipment was found.
The three maintain that they had been sent to pick up the equipment by some people in Bulawayo and Johannesburg.
They told the court that they did not know what was contained in the consignment.
The owner of the Bulawayo warehouse, Craig Markram Edy,was also arrested and is out of custody on bail but will also appear in court.
Magistrate Masimba also ordered the forfeiture to the state of the ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œSky News TVÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â broadcasting equipment which also includes satellite dishes, laptops, computers, disks, tapes and the South African-bound car.
Some journalists who correspond for foreign news organizations have attacked Sky TV for failing to take enough precautions to protect the three and others who helped it, given the dangers faced by journalists in Zimbabwe by those working for foreign media networks.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œThey should at least come out in the open and claim ownership or involvement with those guysÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â said one stringer who declined to be named fearing to expose himself to government.
Sky News correspondent Stuart Ramsay illegally entered Zimbabwe in April and met with opposition party officials who furnished him with a top secret computer database and files that the network claims is evidence that Tsvangirai won an outright majority.
Meanwhile Reuters photographer, Howard Burditt who was found guilty of possessing an satellite phone with out government permission was sentenced to two months in prison which were wholly suspended if he pays a fine of Z$20 billion (US$28)
The jail term was also suspended for three years on condition he does not commit the same offence in the next five years.
Under ZimbabweÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s tough media and broadcasting laws, it is illegal to own, possess or use satellite phones without state approval .