Prominent Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin’ono appeared in court Saturday after police arrested him for “peddling falsehoods.” Media monitor groups fear Chin’ono’s arrest — his third in six months — may be part of efforts by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to stifle freedom of expression on social media.
Chin’ono arrived Saturday at the Harare Magistrate’s Court in full personal protective equipment (PPE), complaining about his continued “persecution.”
“Because we tell them the truth, we comment about corruption, they look for frivolous charges to throw at me,” he said. “But as a journalist I am covered by the law.”
He sat for close to four hours as prosecutors looked for PPE to wear before proceeding with his case. Chin’ono said he has been in contact with two people who have since tested positive for coronavirus.
Harrison Nkomo of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights told reporters that his client, Chin’ono, would be acquitted of the latest charge of “peddling falsehoods.”
“We are challenging placement of Hopewell on remand,” he said. “The basis of our challenge is that they are proceeding in respect of a piece of legislation, which was repealed. I do not want to delve much into my argument.”
In 2014, Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court removed from the country’s statutes the criminalization of the publication of false statements undermining public confidence in the uniformed forces.
Tabani Moyo of Media Institute of Southern Africa in Zimbabwe said this third arrest of Chin’ono is intended to intimidate citizens and journalists in Zimbabwe.
“This immediate case points to a clear case of trying to effect a chilling effect on the media,” Moyo said. “How do you come to a conclusion that Hopewell has violated any law of the country for providing an opinion on a video clip that has thousands of people communicating on it? Why, why arriving at Hopewell, a journalist for that matter? So, it is an assault on the media. Secondly, it is meant to send chilling effect not only to the media, but to the users of the online spaces. This is a dangerous trend we are seeing.”
Monica Mutsvangwa, Zimbabwe’s information minister, said Saturday that she would comment on the matter only after the courts had disposed of the case.
Meanwhile, Chin’ono is scheduled to be back in court Monday, when his lawyer is expected to challenge the law under which he was charged Thursday.
Chin’ono had been free on bail since last year for two charges when he was picked up on the latest charge.
In July 2020, Chin’ono was arrested for advocating on social media anti-government protests being organized by activists. Then he was arrested in November for obstruction of justice and demeaning the country’s National Prosecution Authority.
Chin’ono denies both those charges.
Source: Voice of America