ZIMBABWE human right report

Zimbabwean journalist and opposition leader arrested in crackdown on planned 31 July protests

By Arnold Tsunga 20 July 2020

Arrested: Freelance Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin'ono. (Photo: zwnews.com / Wikipedia)

After their arbitrary arrest in Harare today, the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) has demanded that the government of Zimbabwe immediately release journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and opposition leader Jacob Ngarivhume. Human rights lawyer Arnold Tsunga filed this report.

Arnold Tsunga

The arrest of Hopewell Chin’ono was captured on camera when police vandalised his property, breaking a glass door to forcibly enter and drag out the award-winning freelance journalist in what looked more like an abduction than a lawful arrest.

“We deplore the increasing weaponisation of the law to attack civic space and silence human rights defenders in Zimbabwe,” said Professor Adriano Nuvunga, a steering committee member of the SAHRDN and executive director at the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) in Mozambique.

“Over the years we have seen the unfortunate phenomenon of using the same tactics that were used in pre-independent Zimbabwe of abusing the law, the police, the intelligence services and the legal system to be a lethal force against responsible citizens and people fighting for accountable governance. Such cannot by any stretch of imagination be a good state policy and needs to be stopped immediately,” added Nuvunga.

Chin’ono is a renowned freelance journalist who has been involved in exposing high level and systemic corruption in Zimbabwe. He published his arrest on Twitter and broadcast a video which showed state security agents entering his office after gaining entrance by destroying a glass door.

His arrest comes at a time when he had been verbally attacked by Zanu-PF officials as a result of his work in exposing government corruption, especially recently when he exposed corruption involving the recently fired minister of health for allegedly facilitating the stealing of public funds using  Covid-19 as a pretext.

A leading human rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, later posted a video of herself standing by the shattered door of Chin’ono’s house, saying that the workers who witnessed the “abduction” had no idea who had picked up their employer and where he had been taken to.

Also arrested was Jacob Ngarivhume, the president of Transform Zimbabwe, a legitimate political party in Zimbabwe, who has been calling for a public protest on 31 July against bad governance and corruption. Prior to his arrest, he had received death threats from unknown people.

At the time of writing it was reported by sources in Zimbabwe that “the two are being charged with incitement to commit public violence as defined in section 187(1)(a) as read with section 36 (1)(a) of the Code; alternatively inciting the public to engage in a gathering with intent to commit public violence as defined in section 187 (1)(a) as read with section 37(1)(a) of the Code”.

However, human rights lawyer Doug Coltart, who is working with other lawyers to defend Chin’ono, complained in a tweet: “I am with Hopewell Chin’ono at Harare Central police station right now and I can confirm that, more than 5 hours after his arrest, he has still not been formally charged yet and has not been informed of the charges against him. So this is news to him and to us as his lawyers.”

These arrests are part of a growing pattern where human rights defenders and legitimate political opponents are being targeted for speaking out against corruption and bad governance in Zimbabwe.

This past week suspected state security agents broke into the house of Obert Masaraure, the president of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ). They briefly held his wife against her will, demanding to see Masaraure who has previously been a victim of abduction and torture. ARTUZ has been key in calling for better living conditions of civil servants, particularly rural teachers.

Last week also saw nurses being arrested and detained for striking for better working conditions and getting PPE for them to be able to fight against Covid-19 more effectively.

“We urge the Zimbabwean government to comply with its obligations under international law and the Constitution of Zimbabwe,” said Nuvunga. “Section 58, 59, 60 and 61 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe guarantees the freedom of expression and association.”

The United Nations Special Mechanisms has recently written to Zimbabwean authorities to stop abductions and torture of HRDs and violation of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. But it would seem the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa is not interested in international human rights law.

The SAHRDN has called on Zimbabwean authorities to stop persecuting human rights defenders, journalists, and democracy activists and to ensure the safety of Hopewell Chin’ono and Jacob Ngarivhume and unconditionally release the arrested HRDs and democracy activists in Zimbabwe. DM/MC

 Arnold Tsunga is a human rights lawyer and the past chairperson of the Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network.

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