New Zealand photojournalist freed from Zimbabwe jail

13th May 2012, Comments 0 comments

A photojournalist from New Zealand who was arrested in Zimbabwe has been released and spoken of the "hell" of spending 25 days in the country's jails, Britain's Sunday Times newspaper reported.

Robin Hammond, 36, who works for the newspaper, was arrested on April 16 near the South African border as he was reporting without accreditation on refugees fleeing across the border from Zimbabwe.

Hammond, who has won an Amnesty International award for photos of child soldiers in Sudan, was strip-searched and kept in a cramped and filthy cell with 38 other prisoners in Beit Bridge prison, the newspaper reported Sunday.

He was told he would be charged with taking photographs in a restricted area, then interrogated with the apparent aim of forcing him to admit he was a journalist, it said.

"When they interrogated me, they made me squat on the ground. At one point they beat up a young man in front of me. They beat him so hard the broom they were using on his back broke in two," Hammond was quoted as saying.

"They towered over me and screamed that no-one could hear me. During one really bad interrogation, nine men shouted at me at a time. They were trying to break not just me but everyone in there."

While in jail he sneaked a note out through his lawyer asking his friends and girlfriend to change his online footprint to obscure the fact that he was a photojournalist, Hammond told the newspaper.

"I was at the mercy of a system where laws are bent to fit politics and human rights are regularly disregarded," he said.

Hammond was transferred after two weeks to Harare central prison. His release last week was secured by two charities, the Sunday Times said, and he is now back in Paris, where he lives.

The media in Zimbabwe is tightly regulated and journalists are not allowed to work in the country without accreditation.

President Robert Mugabe, 88, who has ruled the country for 30 years, is decried by activists as one of the worst perpetrators of rights abuses.


© 2012 AFP

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