NORTHERN EXPOSURE

Harare High Court judge releases Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin’ono on bail, says lower court ‘misdirected itself’

By Frank Chikowore 20 November 2020

Hopewell Chin’ono approached the court arguing that his constitutional right to a fair trial was being violated by the decision of the magistrate to bar his legal practitioner of choice from representing him. (Photo: Supplied)

A Zimbabwean judge has ended the incarceration of prominent journalist and documentary film-maker Hopewell Chin’ono after granting him bail on Friday following his arrest on charges of defeating or obstructing the course of justice.

Harare High Court judge Tawanda Chitapi ruled that the lower court had misdirected itself in denying Chin’ono bail last week on grounds that he had a “propensity to commit offences” when he had no previous convictions. 

Chin’ono, who refused to name his sources during his bail application, was re-arrested after he posted a message on his Twitter account saying he had information from his National Prosecuting Authority sources that the state was not going to oppose bail for suspended president of the Zimbabwe Miners Federation, Henrietta Rushwaya who had been arrested for attempting to smuggle six kilograms of gold to Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

“The appellant has not been found guilty of any offence and it should be incumbent upon a judicial officer to check whether one has a previous conviction or not if he or she is to deny bail on grounds of propensity. In this case, this court finds that the state counsel and the regional magistrate did not advance this argument, therefore the decision of the lower court is hereby set aside and appellant will be on the same conditions he is on in the previous matter,” ruled Chitapi.

In a previous case for which he is out on bail, Chin’ono was ordered to surrender his passport, title deeds of his house and to report twice per week to police. 

The judge also ordered Chin’ono not to use his Twitter account to post messages that have an effect of obstructing justice until the matter is finalised.

Chin’ono, who was being kept at Zimbabwe’s maximum security prison until today, was arrested in July for allegedly using his Twitter account to incite Zimbabweans to revolt against President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration. 

One of his lawyers, Douglas Coltart welcomed the judgment.

“We are happy that the High Court has ruled in our favour. Hopewell Chin’ono will be released as soon as we get the warrant of liberation,” said Coltart. 

The Zimbabwe Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa-Zimbabwe) expressed joy at the release of Chin’ono adding he should not have been arrested in the first place.

“The bail conditions restrict him from utilising his tools of trade. When you take a journalist through this route of violating his rights and exerting pressure using the law to demean him in terms of his public standing it also affects the network of sources because sources will become afraid that by continuously being profiled he will end up compromising their safety, so this is a trial of journalism, it’s an attack on journalism, a systematic attack on journalism by central government,” said Misa-Zimbabwe director Tabani Moyo. 

Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa of the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance party, who was in court when Chin’ono’s ruling was delivered, criticised Mnangagwa’s government for targeting journalists, adding that Zimbabwe was fast sliding into anarchy.

“Journalism is not a crime, journalism as a profession has to be protected in terms of the constitution. The fact that we are with Hopewell Chin’ono being charged for whatever reason is a confirmation that indeed there is a crisis in Zimbabwe, it is a confirmation that things are not adding up, it is a confirmation that things are upside down and we have an urgent crisis that has to be addressed by a return to democracy, a return to the rule of law, a return to openness,” said Chamisa. DM

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