By Fungai Lupande
The trial of The Sunday Mail editor Mabasa Sasa, investigations editor Brian Chitemba and reporter Tinashe Farawo started yesterday with chief police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba testifying as the first State witness.
The trio is facing charges of communicating or publishing false statements prejudicial to the State. In her testimony, Snr Asst Comm Charamba said she knew and interacted with Farawo for the past three years.
“On October 30 last year, Farawo called me on my cellphone asking whether a senior police officer was involved in cyanide poisoning,” said Snr Asst Comm Charamba.
“I told him that to my knowledge, there was no Assistant Commissioner involved in poaching, neither were there investigations.
“Basing on the good relationship I had with him, I told him that I will further verify with relevant sections.
“On Saturday, I saw a missed call from Farawo and I called him back. He said he was following up on the poaching story.”
Snr Asst Comm Charamba said she emphasised to Farawo that she had checked with relevant offices and there was no such case except for villagers in Hwange who were arrested after being found with elephant meat.
“I emphasised that the Press and Public Relations Department falls under Operations Department and Minerals and Border Control, which is responsible for investigating cases and there was definitely no such case,” she said.
“Farawo said he looked for me the whole day and had already submitted the story concerning the senior assistant commissioner.
“I asked where he got the information and he said from Parks and Wildlife.
“The following day I saw the screaming headline about a top cop fingered in cyanide poaching.
“I called Farawo and he said he hadn’t seen the paper and maybe his editor placed such a headline.
“I was at pains to explain to my bosses and colleagues that I had not given out false information. Officer Commanding Matabeleland North also called me.”
Snr Asst Comm Charamba added that she contacted Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority public relations officer Caroline Washaya-Moyo and she distanced herself from the story.
“Washaya-Moyo said Farawo spoke to Gotora, an official at Parks and Wildlife. Officer Commanding Mat North said he spoke to Farawo and he said he got the information from the President’s Office and his sources in Hwange,” she said.
“Having found that we were going nowhere I called a Press conference mentioning that there was no Asst Comm involved in poaching.
“A statement he wrote about me is not a true reflection of what I said to him.”
Prosecutor Mrs Francesca Mukumbiri, asked what effect the article had on the economy of the country.
The trio’s defence Advocate Fadzayi Mahere, objected to the line of questioning and asked Snr Asst Comm Charamba to be excused while she makes her submissions.
Magistrate Mr Tendai Mahwe, ruled that the witnesses could not be excused because she was under oath.
“To excuse a witness already under oath is unprocedural. If we bar other people from the trial, it ceases to be an open court,” said Mr Mahwe.
Adv Mahere submitted that the question was leading.
“The witness never mentioned anything in her statement about how the economic interest of the country was affected and how,” she said.
“The reason witness statements are given in advance is to enable the accused to prepare their defence. Accused has a right to sufficient information as enshrined in the Constitution.”
Mr Mahwe ruled that indeed the State’s question was leading and she should rephrase it.
The trial was adjourned to May 2.
However, the trio’s bail condition of reporting every Friday at Law and Order was removed by the court. The Herald