Zimbabwean authorities arrest investigative journalist who busted Covid-19 corruption

Tawanda Majoni*

Harare--Zimbabwean security forces on Monday morning arrested and detained Hopewell Chin’ono, an investigative journalist who recently busted corruption relating to Covid-19 tenders.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said he was finally charged with “inciting people to revolt against President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration during some planned anti-government protests called for end of month (July)”.

“(Police) charged Chin’ono with incitement to participate in a gathering with intent to promote public violence, breaches of peace or bigotry as defined in section 187 (1) (a) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act”, said ZLHR in a statement Monday evening. “(The police) also pressed alternative charges of incitement to commit public violence.”

The charge sheet stated that Chin’ono posted various messages on his Twitter account between May and July, urging Zimbabweans to violently protest against the government on July 31, a day marked for a nationwide anti-corruption demonstration.

The cited tweets, however, do not seem to incite violence.

Security details led by Superintendent Smart Matongo of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) raided his home in northern Harare, the capital, broke glass windows and took Chin’ono away.

Before he was taken away, the award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker managed to send out an SOS through his Twitter account and posted a brief video clip that captured a group of servicemen budging into his lounge.

Beatrice Mtetwa, a human rights lawyer representing the journalist who quickly visited Chin’ono’s house, described the raid as an abduction and the journalist was later tracked down to the Harare Central Police Station’s Law and Order Section where it took more than eight hours before the law enforcers charged him.

The police and ministry of information posted tweets announcing that the investigative journalist had been arrested for alleged “incitement to participate in public violence” well before they formally charged him Monday evening.

As they were charging Chin’ono in the evening, another team of detectives raided his home again, reportedly to search for “incriminating” evidence, according to ZLHR.

Western embassies in Harare have condemned the arrest.

“We are concerned by the arrest (Hopewell Chin’ono) and call for his immediate release. Journalism is not a crime, but a crucial pillar of any democratic society and of the fight against corruption. Journalism and freedom of expression deserve protection,” wrote the European Union delegation on Twitter.

The British embassy also tweeted and urged “the authorities to follow the rule of law and uphold media freedoms and freedom of speech” while the US embassy wrote: “Exposing corruption is not a crime”.

Chin’ono, a CNN African Journalist of the Year and an Africa Leadership as well as Nieman Fellow, recently exposed how the Zimbabwean government paid inflated prices to a shady company, Drax International, for the supply of Covid-19 equipment without going to tender.

The Zimbabwean head of Drax, Delish Nguwaya—a confessed friend to one of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s sons—has since been arrested, together with the then health minister, Obadiah Moyo, who has been fired from his post for allegedly abusing his office in the illegal tender for Covid-19 equipment.

Again recently, the Home Affairs minister, flanked by top generals from intelligence, the army, prison services and the police, accused Chin’ono of being among numerous individuals and online journalists spreading false rumours of an imminent coup.

The current administration came through a coup that toppled the late ex-president, Robert Mugabe, in late 2017 and has of late conducted a spate of arrests of its critics ahead of the planned anti-corruption protests on July 31.

Chin’ono is set to be taken from police detention to court soon.

Reyhana Masters, the chairperson of Information for Development Trust (IDT)—a Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) member helping journalists investigate corruption—said Chin’ono’s arrest was part of a government onslaught on journalists, civil society and political activists speaking against corruption.

“Hopewell’s apprehension comes on the back of sweeping attacks on and arrests of citizens from diverse sectors who are holding government to account,” said Masters.

Government also arrested Jacob Ngarivhume, an opposition party member and charged him with incitement too. He is leading the mobilisation of people to protest against corruption on July 31.

*Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at IDT, a member of GIJN

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Director Editorial: Luís Nhachote (+258 84 4703860)

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