Prominent Zimbabwean investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono said the struggle against corruption must continue as he was denied bail and sent back to prison to await trial on charges of incitement of public violence.
Chin’ono recently published documents raising concerns that powerful individuals in Zimbabwe were profiting from multimillion-dollar deals for essential supplies to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
The 49-year-old was arrested earlier this week and has been held in police or prison cells since. Authorities accuse him of promoting planned protests against corruption in government on July 31, which police say will turn violent.
Chin’ono denies the charges against him and could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
During a hearing on Friday in Harare, the capital, magistrates said they had denied Chin’ono bail as a preventative measure to stop the journalist reoffending before the planned rally.
Chin’ono will return to court on August 07. Supporters are concerned that he will be exposed to COVID-19, which is spreading in Zimbabwe’s prisons.
“I’m OK, I’m fine … Basically, this means journalism has been criminalised. The struggle against corruption should continue. People should not stop, they should carry on,” Chin’ono said on leaving the court.
Lawyers for the journalist said they would appeal against the decision.
“We disagree with the magistrate ruling and his findings. He did not engage in particular with the evidence laid before him by the investigating officer who admitted there was nothing in the tweets that formed the basis of the charge to incite violence. We will be appealing against the ruling,” Doug Coltart, a member of Chin’ono’s legal counsel, told the Guardian.
During the cross-examination, the police’s lead investigating officer admitted that there was nothing in Chin’ono’s tweets that suggested incitement of public violence.
Earlier in the day, Jacob Ngarivhume, an opposition leader, also was denied bail for the same offence.
“The state fears that if he is released on bail, there is going to be demonstrations. The state alleges that he has incited the nation to demonstrate against corruption and they fear that if he is admitted to bail the demonstrations will continue on July 31,” his lawyer, Moses Nkomo, said.
The bail hearing had been repeatedly delayed after authorities announced a new lockdown to stem the rapid spread of COVID-19, forbidding all movement around Harare and any large meetings. Only essential workers and tasks are exempt.
The arrest of the two men prompted a strong reaction from human rights campaigners and western powers. The United Nations expressed concern that the COVID-19 pandemic was being used as a pretext to clamp down on fundamental human rights.
“Merely calling for a peaceful protest or participating in a peaceful protest are an exercise of recognised human rights,” it said.
Amnesty International said the arrests were “designed to intimidate and send a chilling message to journalists, whistleblowers and activists who draw attention to matters of public interest in Zimbabwe”. (Source: The Guardian)