Zimbabwean court must free imprisoned journalist who is unwell
On the eve of a court hearing to consider another request for the release of Hopewell Chin’ono, a well-known Zimbabwean investigative journalist who has just been tested for Covid-19 in prison, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterates its call for his unconditional release.
Held for the past six weeks and now in a maximum-security prison, Chin’ono is “unwell,” one of his lawyers reported in a tweet yesterday. RSF has learned that Chin’ono has had a Covid-19 test but the result has not yet been announced. When reached by RSF, another of his lawyers, Beatrice Mtewa, said the risk of infection was “high” in the prison because of “over-crowding, no social distancing, no water, soap or sanitizers – basically non-compliance with recommended Covid protocols.
Tomorrow’s hearing will be the fourth time that a court has considered a request for his provisional release.
Chin’ono was arrested at his Harare home on 20 July on the official grounds of several tweets in which he urged Zimbabweans to take part in an anti-corruption protest planned for 31 July. The police say he is charged with “incitement to commit public violence” and “incitement to participate in a gathering with intent to promote public violence.” An outspoken critic of President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his government, Chin’ono had in June helped to expose a case of overbilling for medical supplies to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Several persons close to the government, including the president’s son, have been linked to the scandal, which resulted in the health minister’s arrest.
“This renowned investigative journalist is being subjected to political and judicial persecution that is now putting his health in grave danger,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “His reporting and his views on corruption should never have led to imprisonment. His worsening health and exposure to the coronavirus must convince the authorities to release him at once. Keeping him in prison would seem like an preliminary sentence. The authorities have been warned repeatedly and we hold them entirely responsible for his fate.”
RSF and the Zimbabwean branch of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), a regional press freedom organization, sent a joint letter to information minister Monica Mutsvanga a month ago about the increase in arbitrary arrests of journalists, calling for Chin’ono’s release and an end to police abuses against journalists in connection with their coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.
RSF has registered 15 press freedom violations in Zimbabwe, including ten arrests of journalists, since the start of the coronavirus crisis. This is more than in any other African country.
Despite the promises of change that accompanied the dictator Robert Mugabe’s fall in 2017, the press freedom situation is still very worrying in Zimbabwe, which is ranked 126th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.