Whistle-blowing journalist remains in police custody as bail hearing is delayed

Whistle-blowing journalist remains in police custody as bail hearing is delayed
Journalist Hopewell Chin’ono arriving at court while a prison guard carries the court papers. (Photo: supplied)

Hopewell Chin’ono has spent another night in jail as his bail hearing was postponed – once again. He is charged with ‘intent to promote public violence’, but evidence to prove this has yet to be produced.

Arrested journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and co-accused Jacob Ngarivhume first appeared before a Harare Magistrate’s Court on 21 July charged with plotting against the government. The two are accused of conspiring to mobilise anti-government protests under the trending hashtag #31July.

Chin’ono and the Transform Zimbabwe party’s Ngarivhume are being charged with “incitement to participate in a gathering with intent to promote public violence, breaches of peace or bigotry”.

Ngarivhume was denied bail on Thursday 23 July on the basis that he is a “dangerous threat” to the public and if released will continue inciting people to break Covid-19 regulations on #31July.

The state, led by prosecutor Whisper Mabhaudhi, in its submissions on 22  July, opposed bail for Chin’ono, saying he was likely to abscond, influence witnesses and endanger the public. That hearing was postponed to the following day to allow the defence to make submissions and complaints.

On 23 July (Thursday) Chin’ono’s bail hearing was rolled over for the second time, to Friday, due to the lockdown measures set out by President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Tuesday.

Mnangagwa announced a curfew from 6pm to 6am, among other measures to curb the spread of Covid-19, with effect from Wednesday 22 July. Only essential workers and tasks are exempt from the curfew.

Chin’ono is being represented by Beatrice Mtetwa and Doug Coltart of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR). Mtetwa told journalists after the hearing:

“Hopewell’s bail hearing has been postponed again until tomorrow morning at 8.30 due to transport difficulties with the curfew. It makes a mockery of the requirement to be brought to court within 48 hours and that bail be heard urgently.”

Lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa at Harare Magistrate’s Court court. (Photo supplied)

Coltart told Daily Maverick:

“The State is opposing bail on the grounds that Hopewell is a danger to the public as he had called people to gather during the Covid-19 epidemic and if the 31st of July demonstration goes ahead, it will spread the virus.

“The State also claims that Chin’ono has contacts in other parts of the world and Zimbabwe has porous borders, so even taking away his passports would not be sufficient. They said he’s likely to interfere with State evidence and their investigations. We will continue with cross-examination of the State witness tomorrow morning at 8.30.”

Chin’ono’s lawyers raised a complaint against the state after the police broke into his house to arrest him. Both Chin’ono and Ngarivhume’s bail hearings have been postponed till 24 July.

Daily Maverick spoke to Zimbabwean novelist and activist Tsitsi Dangarembga, who said:

“Our judiciary system does not have the greatest track record where matters of justice are concerned and as a result it’s very difficult to predict with any degree of accuracy what tomorrow’s outcome might be.

“However, the State’s case is so weak and I do hope that Hopewell Chin’ono will be released on bail tomorrow.”

Tsitsi Dangarembga. (Photo supplied)

The duo’s arrest is the latest in a series of arrests of journalists, health workers, teachers and political activists in Zimbabwe. Political tensions have been rising for months as the economy collapses, but authorities have defended the arrests, saying no one is above the law. 

Government Secretary for Information Nick Mangwana told Daily Maverick

“Government will uphold its law, regardless of whatever opinion and political pressure from powerful friends of somebody. Our laws know no colour, creed, class or who a person’s friends are and we uphold that law because that’s the law of the land. 

“You don’t break the law because you have friends in powerful places, that’s not right. If Hopewell and Jacob go to court and they are acquitted, it’s fine. If they go to court and are convicted so be it.

“That’s how the law of the land works in any other country or jurisdiction and Zimbabwe is no exception. We don’t write letters, make statements about how people are being treated in other countries or how they are enforcing their own laws, managing their own state security. 

“We will be glad if we are left alone to do what our laws say and secure this country. We don’t wait for people who are saying they would overthrow the government.” 

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) director, Thabani Moyo, told Daily Maverick

“Today again journalism was on trial in the case of state against Hopewell Chin’ono. The allegations raised are frivolous including that he incited violence. The real undertones are that he has been running a series of exposé stories on corruption which involves the first family. 

“In our view, this is unfortunate and we hope the courts will exercise due diligence and allow for the proliferation of competitive journalism in Zimbabwe.”

The 49-year-old Chin’ono, who is a Harvard University Nieman Fellow and an internationally respected reporter, recently published documents exposing powerful individuals in Zimbabwe profiting from Covid-19 multimillion-dollar deals. If convicted, Chin’ono could face up to 10 years in prison. DM


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