Africa

NORTHERN EXPOSURE

Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin’ono finally released on bail

Prominent Zimbabwean journalist and documentary filmmaker Hopewell Chin’ono has been granted bail by a Harare High Court judge. (Photo: Frank Chikowore)

A Zimbabwean judge on Wednesday ordered the release on bail of prominent journalist and documentary filmmaker Hopewell Chin’ono. Justice Dave Foroma found that the prosecution had failed to make a case against Chin’ono strong enough to warrant the denial of his bail.

Chin’ono has been languishing in remand prison for 20 days on charges of violating a section of the law that was expunged from the statutes by the country’s highest court. 

One of his lawyers, Job Sikhala, who is also the national deputy chairperson of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change Alliance party, is still in jail awaiting his bail appeal ruling set for Monday.

Chin’ono, Sikhala and another top opposition official, Fadzayi Mahere, were arrested earlier this month after they allegedly posted messages on their social media accounts that authorities say were tantamount to “publishing or communicating falsehoods prejudicial to the state”. Mahere has since been released on bail.

Although the section of the law that the state used to charge Chin’ono, Sikhala and Mahere was declared “void and unconstitutional” by the Constitutional Court in 2014, the lower courts ruled that the provision was resurrected by Amendment 3 of 2016. However, a Harare High Court judge, Davison Foroma, set aside a lower court’s decision denying the veteran journalist bail while another judge said he would be ready to deliver Sikhala’s bail appeal ruling only on 1 February. 

The lower court had denied Chin’ono and Sikhala bail after ruling that there was overwhelming evidence against the journalist while Sikhala was said to have “a propensity to commit offences”. Justice Foroma found that the record of proceedings in the lower court showed that the prosecution failed to make a strong case against Chin’ono that warranted his denial of bail. 

“The claim by the state that its case was overwhelming was not supportable on the evidence of the investigating officer. In fact, the appellant was not demonstrated to have falsely or incorrectly misinterpreted or interpreted the video which was the source of his alleged publication as the video was not produced in court in the first place,” ruled the judge. 

“In any event, while in casu the state alleged that it has overwhelming evidence against the applicant, there was no such evidence led to support this claim. Although the learned magistrate found that publication was not challenged, this was a misunderstanding of the appellant’s position. Defence counsel went to some length challenging the witness to produce proof of the publication of the words forming the sting in the publication which challenge was indicative that publication was not actually being admitted by the appellant,” said the judge.

The judge ordered Chin’ono to post RTGS$20,000 (about US$20) in bail in addition to conditions imposed by the High Court in his previous incitement case.

Chin’ono’s arrest on 7 January was his third arrest in six months after he was initially arrested in July 2020 for allegedly inciting Zimbabweans to revolt against President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government and later in November for allegedly defeating or obstructing the course of justice. 

His arrest and that of opposition activists were condemned by the international community, media and human rights watchdogs such as the Committee to Protect Journalists, Media Institute of Southern Africa and Amnesty International. DM

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