A court in Zimbabwe has granted bail to three journalists arrested for publishing a story that linked senior police officers to a massive elephant poaching syndicate.
Despite a three-hour argument from state prosecutors, magistrate Tendai Mahwe ordered the release Wednesday of the three journalists on $100 bail each.
Foster Dongozi of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists says the three never should have been arrested at all.
“Instead of seeking assistance and guidance from the journalists, we get surprised and extremely shocked and displaced at the same time when the police descend into newsrooms and arrest journalists,” he said. “We are expecting police to be in the Hwange National Park looking for the poachers and not in the newsrooms looking to arrest journalists.”
The three journalists from the state-owned Sunday Mail newspaper were arrested Monday for linking senior police officers to a poaching syndicate at Hwange National Park, about 700 kilometers southwest of Harare.
In recent months, about 80 elephants have died at Hwange due to cyanide poisoning.
Zimbabwe police spokeswoman Charity Charamba said the three published “falsehoods.” But Amnesty International said their detention was a “shocking attempt to threaten freedom of the press” in Zimbabwe.
The southern African country has an estimated 100,000 elephants. But conservationists say poaching is starting to decimate the population.
Demand for ivory from the elephants’ tusks remains high in Asia despite an international ban on the ivory trade. Analysts also say poverty is pushing some Zimbabweans into illegal hunting.