Grace Mugabe receives immunity in Hong Kong

Zimbabwean president's wife won't be prosecuted for assault on photographer

HONG KONG (Sapa-AFP) - The wife of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has been granted diplomatic immunity from prosecution over her alleged assault of a British journalist in Hong Kong, authorities said Sunday.

The Department of Justice said Grace Mugabe, 43, was not liable to arrest and enjoyed immunity from criminal prosecutions under Chinese law.

Hong Kong's legal system is separate from China, but it has to apply the country's laws in cases involving foreign relations or defence.

Jones has said a "completely deranged" Mugabe struck him in the face repeatedly as her bodyguard grabbed him when he was trying to snap photos of her leaving the five-star Kowloon Shangri-la Hotel in January.

The photographer later reported the incident to the police and said he sustained numerous bruises and cuts to his face from the assault, thanks to the diamond-encrusted ring the first lady was wearing.

Jones said Sunday that the government's decision was a disgrace and he felt angry that he only learned about the result of the police investigation from the media.

"I think it's a disgrace for the Hong Kong government to allow a person to walk on a street in Hong Kong, punch a member of the media, and walk free from it. This is a town where the freedom of the media is a strong tradition," he told AFP.

His lawyer Michael Vidler said CCTV footage and statements from independent witnesses had provided strong evidence for their case.

The serious lacerations inflicted on Jones' face were sufficient to merit a charge of wounding rather than the more minor offence of common assault, Vidler said.

At the time of the alleged assault, Jones was working for The Sunday Times on a report about Mugabe's extravagant holiday in the Far East, a stark contrast in lifestyle to the people in Zimbabwe.

Nearly half the population of Zimbabwe is dependent on food aid and a cholera epidemic has claimed more than 4,000 lives.

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