A prominent Zimbabwean journalist who helped expose a multimillion-dollar corruption scandal involving the procurement of coronavirus supplies was denied bail on Friday following his arrest on charges of inciting violence.
Hopewell Chin’ono, 49, had in recent months been running a series of reports via Twitter and Facebook on the so-called “Covidgate”.
He was arrested on Monday and charged with inciting the public to commit violence, linked to opposition-organised protests against corruption which were slated for next week.
“I have been denied bail for the fact of reporting what the organisers of the 31st of July protests had said,” Chin’ono told reporters as he hopped onto a prisons van from the Harare courthouse.
“So basically journalism has been criminalised,” he said, adding that “the struggle against corruption should continue, people should not stop”.
Prosecutors accused him of inciting Zimbabweans to join a planned anti-government protest during a coronavirus outbreak, which showed “no regard for human life”.
Chin’ono was arrested Monday, the same day as opposition leader Jacob Ngarivhume.
Ngarivhume — president of the small party Transform Zimbabwe — had scheduled nationwide protests against state corruption and the country’s economic crisis.
But the demonstration was effectively banned when President Mnangagwa imposed a curfew and reinstated confinement measures on Tuesday to curb the spread of coronavirus.
The planned demonstration was also going to coincide with the second anniversary of a general election won by Mnangagwa amid accusations of fraud.
Harare magistrate Ngoni Nduna ordered Chin’ono back to prison and that he return to court on August 7.
Chin’ono’s lawyer Douglas Coltart told AFP they will appeal against the magistrate’s ruling at the High Court.
The bail denial came as the UN’s high commissioner for human rights warned Zimbabwe against using the coronavirus pandemic as a cover to curb political demonstrations.
“We are concerned at allegations in Zimbabwe which suggest that the authorities may be using the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to clamp down on freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association,” said the commissioner’s spokeswoman, Liz Throssell in Geneva on Friday.