Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin’ono is freed on bail
Filmmaker was held in Harare for six weeks after carrying out investigations into corruption
Hopewell Chin’ono, the Zimbabwean journalist held in a high-security prison for almost six weeks pending trial on charges of inciting violence, has been freed on bail.
Chin’ono was arrested at his home in Harare in July after publishing a series of investigations into corruption in Zimbabwe. He has since been held in an overcrowded cell in Chikurubi jail on the outskirts of the capital, Harare.
Earlier this week, the journalist’s legal team said Chin’ono had fallen ill and was displaying possible Covid symptoms.
At a packed hearing at the high court in Harare on Wednesday, the judge, Tawanda Chitapi, said magistrates had been wrong to refuse bail to Chin’ono after 31 July, the date of planned protests against the government. His co-accused, Jacob Ngarivhume, a political activist, was also freed.
Chin’ono has been charged with encouraging violence at the demonstrations. The authorities banned the protest, citing Covid-19 regulations, and deployed the army and riot police to disperse any demonstrators. Chin’ono denies any wrongdoing.
The 47-year-old journalist’s legal team said they were happy with the decision to grant bail, though they criticised “over-stringent conditions”.
Chin’ono has been ordered to deposit $10,000, is prohibited from posting on social media, and must report twice weekly to the police. A date for the trial will be set in two weeks.
“Of course, the fact that he has been incarcerated for this time is a huge injustice, his bail conditions are strict … They restrict his constitutional rights,” said Doug Coltart, a human rights lawyer representing Chin’ono.
International concern has grown over the recent crackdown in Zimbabwe, during which between 50 and 100 opposition party officials, writers, labour activists and others have been arrested and often detained.
The US, UK, EU and others have condemned the repression. Local clergy also published a scathing open letter accusing the country’s president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and his government of an abuse of power. Images of political detainees being led to court in leg irons have caused outrage.
Ngarivhume, the leader of Transform Zimbabwe, said 45 days of detention would not deter him from fighting injustice in Zimbabwe. “Our hope for a new Zimbabwe is renewed every day. We will get there. We dream of a Zimbabwe that respects human rights, that is free of corruption, and a Zimbabwe that respects the rule of law. We will never relent … We will remain strong,” he told reporters and supporters outside the court.
But Ngarivhume and Chin’ono, a respected documentary maker who has worked for a number of international organisations, still face lengthy prison sentences.
Monica Mutsvangwa, the information minister, told the Guardian that Zimbabwe’s detractors “wave a charge sheet of nebulous and frivolous accusations”.
Mutsvangwa said Chin’ono was facing charges following a “lawful arrest on suspicion on participating in an effort to overthrow a constitutionally elected government” and described the idea that he was arrested for exposing corruption as “both mischievous and self-serving”.
“The campaign of calumny and vilification has failed to impress Africa, whose stalwart solidarity with Zimbabwe has stood the test of time … Zimbabwe remains focused on … edifying its democratic ethos,” she said.
South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, said on Monday he would be sending a second batch of envoys to Zimbabwe within days. A delegation last month did not meet opposition parties and was widely criticised for failing to confront Mnangagwa about the recent repression.
Recent arrests include that of Job Sikhala, an MP for the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, who had been in hiding for weeks after being accused of mobilising anti-government protests.
Another opposition MP, Prince Dubeko Dube, has been charged with inciting violence after he gave supermarket employees face masks bearing the slogan “Zanu-PF must go”.
Mnangagwa came to power in 2017 following the military-led ousting of Robert Mugabe, whose dictatorial rule lasted almost 40 years. A former spy chief known as the Crocodile, he promised political and economic reform leading to major investment from overseas.
The economic situation has since deteriorated, however, plunging millions into poverty. Inflation is running at more than 800%, and basic foodstuffs are often difficult to obtain.