Zimbabwe high court frees journalist and protest organiser on bail

Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin'ono arrives at court in Harare, Zimbabwe, on August 7 2020.
Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin'ono arrives at court in Harare, Zimbabwe, on August 7 2020.

Prominent Zimbabwean investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was on Wednesday afternoon granted bail by the high court in Harare after spending 43 days in incarceration at the country’s maximum security prison.

Chin’ono, who had been denied bail three times, was one of the journalists who exposed corruption in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration, leading to the arrest and subsequent firing of health minister Obadiah Moyo over a $60m Covid-19 corruption case.

The outspoken Chin’ono was arrested on charges of inciting the public to go out and protest in the foiled July 31 demonstration, which was ruthlessly quashed by the military and the police.

High court judge Tawanda Chitapi set Chin'ono free, granting the him  Z$10,000 bail (about R1,700)

As part of his bail conditions, Chin’ono was prohibited from posting messages using his popular Twitter handle.

A frail looking Chin'ono appeared before Chitapi and his lawyers, provided by human rights organisation Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR),  who complained about his treatment in the maximum security prison cells.

The ZLHR said that prison guards manhandled the freelance journalist and brought him to appear before a Harare magistrate against the advice of his doctor.

Chin'ono told reporters doctors had taken a Covid-19 test.

“The doctor who examined him on Monday advised prison authorities at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison to put him in self-isolation,” ZLHR said.

“The doctor recommended that given his condition and the symptoms that he was showing he should not go to court but should be isolated from other inmates.”

Earlier on Wednesday, the same court  granted bail to an opposition politician detained after calling for anti-government protests in July over corruption and the worst economic crisis in more than a decade.

Jacob Ngarivhume was arrested along with Chin’ono on July 20 on charges of inciting violence. Ngarivhume had called for the protests on July 31 and Chin’ono wrote about the call.

High court judge Siyabona Musithu said the politician would be released from detention at a maximum-security prison after paying Z$50,000.

The judge said a lower court had erred in denying Ngarivhume bail.

As part of his bail conditions, Ngarivhume, who leads the small opposition party, Transform Zimbabwe, was barred from posting on Twitter until his case is finalised. He was also ordered to  surrender his passport to the court and report to the police three times a week.

Prevented from protesting by restrictions the government says are needed to stop the spread of Covid-19, activists have used the hashtag #ZimbabweanLivesMatter to criticise Mnangagwa and encourage global pressure on his government.

The detention of Ngarivhume and Chin’ono and the arrest of dozens of activists has led to accusations that the government is persecuting the opposition, a charge the authorities deny.

The opposition has disputed Mnangagwa’s 2018 election win, which took place after he replaced Robert Mugabe in a coup, promising a break with Mugabe’s authoritarian style. — with Reuters

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