A Harare Magistrate’s Court on Friday 14 August remanded in custody journalist Hopewell Chin’ono after magistrate Ngoni Nduna postponed the ruling on an application by State prosecutor Whisper Mabhaudhi to bar Chin’ono’s defence lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa for contempt.
Chin’ono will remain behind bars at the Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison until 18 August to allow Nduna “time to research on the internet”.
One of the lawyers representing Chin’ono, Roselyn Hanzi from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), told Daily Maverick:
“The magistrate has said he needs time to write his judgment and deliver on Tuesday the 18th of August. Chin’ono’s bail application is not going to proceed until we have a ruling so that we know the position of our lead counsel on the matter.”
Mtetwa is accused of contempt due to comments posted on a Facebook page associated with her. The State prosecutor said that Mtetwa must have taken corrective action against people running the “Beatrice Mtetwa and The Rule of Law” Facebook page, when she realised that they were denigrating the courts.
He further alleged that Mtetwa’s conduct was “unethical and unprofessional” by failing to act on information produced under her name that denigrated the courts.
Mtetwa, however, submitted that the application to remove her from Chin’ono’s case is sui generis, meaning it has no legal basis, because the prosecutor relied on “obiter” remarks made by a High Court judge.
On justifying the need to further remand Chin’ono to 18 August, Nduna said he did not have “wi-fi at home for the purposes of doing further research” before handing down his ruling on the State’s application to bar Mtetwa from representing Chin’ono.
Hanzi told Daily Maverick that, “As human rights lawyers, we feel the courts should be provided with adequate resources for them to be able to carry out their work. In this age, judicial officers should be capacitated with basic essentials, like the internet.”
According to the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS), Chin’ono was on Friday erroneously taken to the High Court of Zimbabwe instead of the Harare Magistrate’s Court. This delayed his arrival at court by about three hours and resulted in a narrow window for the magistrate to give a ruling on the prosecution application for Mtetwa to stand down.
Because of Covid-19 lockdown regulations, all businesses, including the courts, are obliged to close at 3pm in order to allow for movement before the 6pm curfew.
Court grants Chin’ono and Ngarivhume access to food
In another ruling on an urgent chamber application by ZLHR challenging conditions of detention at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, the High Court of Zimbabwe gave a ruling in favour of Chin’ono and activist Jacob Ngarivhume, saying the two should be “allowed visits by their lawyers and doctors, and to confer with both in private”.
Since their arrest on July 20, ZPCS authorities have denied the two men unsupervised visits, and the High Court judge granted the application filed by ZLHR challenging the suspension of their section 50 rights as stipulated by Zimbabwe’s Constitution.
ZPCS was ordered to comply with the Constitution which lays out the rights of everyone who is detained. The state of prisons in Zimbabwe has been an issue of public scrutiny due to deteriorating hygiene standards.
In April, President Emmerson Mnangagwa used his presidential privilege to give more than 1,200 prisoners an amnesty in order to decongest the prisons. Chin’ono and Ngarivhume are now allowed to communicate with lawyers in private, doctors of their choice, and can receive PPE, food and clothes, subject to reasonable restrictions.
Increasing number of prosecutions for dissent
On the same day, Friday 14 August, that Chin’ono appeared at the Rottenrow Magistrate’s Court, many other activists appeared in different courts on charges related to dissent.
The main opposition MDC-Alliance leadership, including its two vice-presidents, Tendai Biti and Lynette Karenyi-Kore, and five senior party members, Gladys Hlatywayo, David Chimhini, Womberaiishe Nhende, Vongai Tome and Lovemore Chinoputsa, all appeared in court and were remanded to 28 August.
The group are facing charges of contravening Covid-19 regulations after they were arrested while singing at their party headquarters in the capital on 4 June. The party’s councillor in Masvingo, Godfrey Kurauone, has been in remand prison since July after he was arrested for singing an anti-Mnangagwa song.
The week also saw several activists brought before the courts, including a 22-year-old National University of Science and Technology student, Rujeko Heather Mpambwa, charged with insulting Mnangagwa. Mpambwa posted a message on a WhatsApp group criticising the president for “lacking patriotism”. Another youth activist, Namatai Kwekweza, was arrested for raising awareness for people to resist a constitutional amendment. The week closed with the release from remand of seven pro-democracy campaigners who were arrested and charged with “subverting constitutional government”, in May 2019. Had they been convicted, they could have been imprisoned for up to 20 years.
Monday 17 August begins with the bail hearing for Ngarivhume while Chin’ono’s bail hearings will only start after ascertaining whether his lead counsel, Mtetwa, can represent him.
Should Mtetwa be barred from representing Chin’ono, a major scar will mark the integrity of Zimbabwe’s judicial system – denying accused persons the right to a lawyer. DM
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