Northern Exposure

Hopewell Chin’ono is ordered to quarantine in prison; his lawyer also arrested

By Frank Chikowore 9 January 2021

Hopewell Chin’ono arrives at the Harare Magistrates’ Court escorted by detectives and anti-riot police on Thursday 5 November 2020. (Photo: Frank Chikowore)

Prominent Zimbabwean journalist and filmmaker, Hopewell Chin’ono, who was arrested Friday for the third time within six months, was arraigned before a Harare magistrate on Saturday facing fresh charges of communicating falsehoods prejudicial to the state.

Chin’ono, who spent 45 days in remand prison last year on charges of inciting Zimbabweans to revolt against President Emmerson Mnangagwa, and another 17 days on charges of obstructing the course of justice, now stands accused of using his Twitter to falsely claim that a Zimbabwean cop enforcing the Covid-19 national lockdown beat a toddler to death in downtown Harare.

“Investigations by the police established that the nine months old baby is alive and  was never assaulted by a Zimbabwean police officer with a baton stick contrary to the accused person’s statement,” a prosecutor told the court.

Prosecutors told the magistrate that Chin’ono, who claimed that he was in self-isolation after interacting with two people in South Africa who later tested positive to coronavirus, should be detained in remand prison arguing that “releasing him would expose the public to COVID-19”.

Despite submissions by lead defense attorney Harrison Nkomo that Chin’ono should be in quarantine at his home awaiting medical tests, Harare magistrate Lanzini Ncube ordered him to be quarantined in prison.

“It is ordered that the accused person be put in isolation at the remand prison and prison authorities are also directed to make sure that he has warm water,” ruled the magistrate.

The magistrate also ordered Chin’ono to return to court on Monday after his attorneys opposed his placement on remand arguing that the charges did not have legs to stand on.

“We will demonstrate that the accused person does not deserve to be in the dock even for a minute,” Nkomo told the court.

The charge that Chin’ono is facing was outlawed by Zimbabwe’s Constitutional court in 2014.

Chin’ono, who exposed a US$60-million scandal in the purchasing of COVID-19 equipment that resulted in Mnangagwa dismissing his health minister Obadiah Moyo, told journalists that he was being “persecuted for exposing corruption” in the southern African country.

“The police are just being used by the politicians, this is a political persecution. As you know this story was reported by news organizations but they just picked me out of everyone else”, said Chin’ono.

Meanwhile, one of his defense lawyers, Job Sikhala, was arrested after Chin’ono’s court appearance. At the time of publishing, charges against Sikhala were yet to be ascertained.

Like Chin’ono, Sikhala is also facing incitement charges and the case is still pending in the courts. DM

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