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Jurists, EU And Others Demand Release of Zimbabwe Journalist, MDC Alliance Leaders

FILE: Zimbabwe journalist Hopwell Chin'ono talks to the press following his release from prison in Harare, Sept. 2, 2020.
FILE: Zimbabwe journalist Hopwell Chin'ono talks to the press following his release from prison in Harare, Sept. 2, 2020.

Several national and international organizations have condemned the detention of Zimbabwean journalist, Hopewell Chin’ono, who is facing charges of publishing or communicating falsehoods.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the European Commission (EC) and Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) said in separate tweets and statements that Chin’ono is being treated unfairly by the government, which accuses him of tweeting a video that showed a woman wrestling with a policeman said to have struck and killed her child with a baton stick.

In a tweet, the ICJ said, “The denial of bail to Hopewell Chin'ono in Zimbabwe is an affront to human rights and the rule of law. Journalism is not a crime and neither is tweeting. This ongoing harassment must stop

In a similar tweet, the EC said, “The current pre-trial detentions, delays of proceedings & bail denials without serious charges are questionable, especially in times of COVID19. The infection risk in jail is high due to overcrowding & lack of hygiene. We know this because we support prisons through VSO Zimbabwe. We are closely following the recent arrests in Zimbabwe which have bearing on democratic space, justice and impunity, freedom of expression and fighting corruption.”

CPJ, ICJ and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights have demanded the immediate release of Chin’ono, Movement for Democratic Change Alliance vice chairperson Job Sikhala and MDC Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere, who are all facing charges of publishing or communicating falsehoods.

Muthoki Mumo, CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative in Nairobi, said, “The decision to deny Hopewell Chin’ono bail and prolong his detention is yet another example of how far Zimbabwean authorities are willing to go in their attempts to intimidate and silence the press. We call on Zimbabwean authorities not to contest his appeal,” said. “Unfortunately, Chin’ono’s arrest and detention fits into a regional trend of using false news charges to criminalize journalism. This trend must be reversed.”

Chin’ono had delayed applying for bail in order to challenge the constitutionality of that charge, which the court upheld on January 13, according to his attorney, Harrison Nkomo, a hand-written statement from the journalist posted on Twitter, and a report by the local chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa.

Nkomo told CPJ that the legal team intends to appeal the court’s decision on the constitutionality of that charge as soon as possible.

The ZLHR said Chin’ono and Sikhala have have protested against ill-treatment by Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service (ZPCS) officers, who are discriminating them against other prisoners by bringing them to court while handcuffed and shackled in leg irons and defying court orders.

Although Harare Magistrate Lazini Ncube had ordered ZPCS officers to transport Chin’ono to and from prison separately from other prisoners to minimize the risk of spreading coronavirus as the freelance journalist had contact with some people who tested positive to coronavirus, the prison guards defied the court order and continued to ferry him together with other inmates.

Chin’ono’s lawyers Nkomo, Paidamoyo Saurombe and Gift Mtisi of the ZLHR told Ncube that ZPCS officers had defied his orders.

Sikhala’s lawyers Jeremiah Bamu, Nkomo and Saurombe, who appeared before Magistrate Ngoni Nduna, also protested against the ill-treatment of their client, who was brought to court while handcuffed and in leg irons.

A senior official of the ZPCS will appear in court on Friday to respond to allegations of ill-treatment raised by Sikhala.

Meanwhile, opposition MDC-Alliance party spokesperson Advocate Fadzayi Mahere will return to court on Friday. She is expected to appear before local magistrate, Trynos Utahwashe, who will hand down his ruling on her application challenging the State’s bid to place her on remand on charges of publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the state as defined in section 31(a)(i) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act alternatively section 31(a)(iii) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.

Advocate Mahere, who is represented by David Drury and Andria Dracos of Honey and Blanckenberg Legal Practitioners and is assisted by Tinashe Chinopfukutwa of ZLHR, was arrested last Sunday.

On Tuesday when she appeared before Utahwashe, she raised several complaints against the police, accusing them of detaining her in squalid cells at Harare Central Police Station, “which are not fit for habitation.”

Advocate Mahere told Utahwashe that suspects were not being subjected to temperature checks and were not provided with face masks while in detention cells.

The MDC-Alliance party spokesperson disclosed that detained women were not being provided with sanitary ware and there was no toilet paper in the detention cells which were reeking of stale urine.