Hong Kong media frenzy over Mugabe

If Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabes daughter Bona harboured hopes of keeping a low profile while she completes her university course in Hong Kong, they were dealt a painful blow this week.

The 20-year-old has found herself at the centre of a ferocious row over press freedom after two bodyguards protecting her were spared prosecution for grappling with two photographers outside the luxury home her father provided for her during her studies.
Photographers Colin Galloway and Tim ORourke arrived February 13 at the luxury 5-million-US-dollar house in a quiet suburb reportedly bought by Robert Mugabe in 2008.
They got as far as the street outside when the bodyguards confronted them and allegedly tried to grab a camera.
The journalists, working on a story for the Sunday Times in London about the Mugabe familys links to Hong Kong, claimed Briton Galloway was gripped by the throat and lifted off his feet by a male bodyguard while American ORourke was assaulted by the other bodyguard, a woman.
Police were called and Galloway even managed to present a tape recording of his conversation with the bodyguards immediately after the assault in which the female bodyguard appeared to admit assaulting the pair “because you were taking photographs.”
This week, however, after studying the case for three months, Hong Kongs Department of Justice announced it decided not to prosecute the man, named Mapfumo Marks, and the woman, named Manyaira Reliance Pepukai, both from Zimbabwe.
It took the decision, a department spokeswoman said, because it decided the two bodyguards acted as they did because they were “genuinely concerned” for the safety of Bona Mugabe, who they said was about to leave the house to go to university with her security personnel.
The decision has triggered outrage, particularly as Bonas mother, Grace Mugabe, the presidents wife, was herself involved in an incident weeks earlier when she allegedly beat up another photographer, Richard Jones, for taking pictures of her shopping in Hong Kong.
In that case, after a police investigation that concluded there was enough evidence to prosecute, the Department of Justice ruled the case could go no further because as the presidents wife, Grace Mugabe was entitled to diplomatic immunity.
The explanation for not prosecuting the bodyguards was proving a much harder sell for the Hong Kong government, which has found itself accused of allowing the Mugabe family to ride roughshod over press freedom in the former British colony.
Dr Tam Chi-keung, chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, said: “We are very angry. We regret that the government has not charged Mugabes bodyguards. It is obviously harmful to Hong Kongs press freedom.
“Grace Mugabe may be entitled to diplomatic protection, but these bodyguards are not entitled to it. … I think this is a political decision.”
Legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing described the decision not to prosecute as “regrettable.”
“It will send out a negative signal that bodyguards can feel free to beat people up, which is very worrying,” she said. “People may get the message that if you rough up journalists in the name of protecting your client, it is OK.
“I cant see how these journalists would have posed a threat to Miss Mugabe,” she added. “This is really quite astounding.”
Lawyer Michael Vidler, who represents the two photographers, described the decision not to prosecute as “a bodyguards charter” and warned it had broad implications for press freedom.
“We are looking into the possibility of a judicial review,” he said. “The press are here to ensure accountability and transparency. If people who have the money to pay for bodyguards can attack any journalist who they can later say they perceived as a threat to their safety, where will that leave us?”
Galloway, 46, said he was not surprised at the decision but derided the idea that the bodyguards acted out of concern for the safety of Bona Mugabe as “ridiculous.”
“She was nowhere to be seen,” he said. “We dont even know that she was in the house at the time of the incident. We were in the street, and we must have been 30 to 40 yards away from the house and going in the opposite direction when this happened.
“The idea that we could be a threat to somebody in the house behind a closed door is laughable, especially as they told us they had attacked us because we were taking photographs.”
An editorial in the South China Morning Post, Hong Kongs main English-language daily, said Wednesday: “Confidence in the rule of law would have been better served if the guilt or innocence of the bodyguards had been determined by a court.”

The Times (SA)

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