Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin’ono faces another court battle
Prosecutor-General Kumbirai Hodzi wants to resurrect a case in which the charges against journalist Hopewell Chin’ono were quashed.
Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin’ono faces yet another court battle after the country’s Prosecutor-General, Kumbirai Hodzi, filed an application for the rescission of his recent acquittal by the high court on charges of publishing falsehoods.
Chin’ono was acquitted because the law used to prosecute him had been removed by the Constitutional Court and “no longer exists”, but Hodzi wants to resurrect the case and have the court reconsider its verdict.
“We have opposed the Prosecutor-General’s application and now await to hear what the high court will say, but we don’t think it has merit and there can’t be any other view save for the fact that section 31 is no longer part of Zimbabwean law,” Chin’ono’s lawyer Paidamoyo Saurombe told Daily Maverick.
The Prosecutor-General’s application for rescission comes barely a fortnight after Chin’ono’s acquittal.
In his papers to the high court, the Prosecutor-General argues that the State was supposed to have filed opposing papers to Chin’ono’s review application in which the award-winning journalist was seeking to have the matter set aside because he was charged under a “non-existent law”.
Hodzi argues that section 31(a)(iii) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act which deals with “publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the State” is still part of Zimbabwe’s law and as such he is seeking that the order issued by Justice Jester Charehwa acquitting Chin’ono be reversed.
The documentary filmmaker was arrested in January 2021 for posting on his Twitter account that a young child had been beaten to death by police officers at a taxi rank. The child was on its mother’s back at the time.
In court, Chin’ono’s lawyers argued that the law under which he was charged had been expunged by the Constitutional Court in 2014.
The beleaguered journalist was denied bail and placed on remand for at least 20 days.
Chin’ono filed a review application with the high court, but the State did not file opposing papers and the matter was heard without the State as part of the proceedings. Justice Charehwa upheld Chin’ono’s application.
After his acquittal, Chin’ono instructed his lawyers to sue the State for arresting him under a “non-existent law”.
“The order by the High Court remains intact and will not be compromised by the Prosecutor-General’s challenge. We are, however, finalising our paperwork to sue the State for unlawful arrest, malicious prosecution and detention of our client,” said Chin’ono’s lawyer Harrison Nkomo.
Chin’ono is also being sued by advocate Tinomudaishe Chinyoka.
“I’m suing Chin’ono because soon after he came out from prison he said I was in support of the law that was used to prosecute him and that I am a Zanu-PF surrogate sent to defend the use of a law that doesn’t exist,” said Chinyoka.
He is claiming $50,000 for defamation and associated damages to his reputation caused by Chin’ono’s tweet.
According to Chinyoka’s claim, the tweet, posted on 29 April 2021 read:
“When @advocatemahere, @JobSikhala1 & myself [Chin’ono] were arrested, the world saw what it means to have a degree & yet be empty. Zanu PF sent its surrogates like Bright Matonga, Obert Gutu & Tino Chinyoka to defend the use of a law that doesn’t exist. It was ignorance & stomach politics.”
The tweet has been deleted from Chin’ono’s account, but the comments remain.
Chinyoka, however, supported the high court decision to acquit Chin’ono: “Speech should never be the business of criminal law and the Prosecutor-General’s application for rescission is as ill-advised as was the initial prosecution, which shouldn’t have ever happened.”
Chin’ono has two other pending cases before the courts in which he is accused of “incitement to commit public violence” during planned anti-government protests in July 2020 and “contempt of court” after he allegedly flouted his bail conditions. DM