Prominent investigative journalist in Zimbabwe who was arrested this week says he is being persecuted for exposing corruption.
Chin’ono, 49, was detained on Monday and has been held in police custody since. He has been formally charged with incitement of public violence and could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
His lawyers have accused authorities of persecution after magistrates postponed a decision on bail for 24 hours, blaming a Covid-19 curfew. During a bail hearing on Wednesday, magistrates said a new curfew obliged them to halt proceedings for at least a day.
Authorities had announced a new lockdown on Tuesday to stem the rapid spread of Covid-19, forbidding all movement around the capital, Harare, and any large meetings. Only essential workers and tasks are exempt.
Hopewell Chin’ono, a prominent documentary filmmaker, recently raised concerns on his Twitter platform that powerful individuals in Zimbabwe were profiting from multimillion-dollar deals for essential supplies to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Officials have said the accusation of incitement is based on tweets he sent encouraging people to attend a demonstration against corruption planned for July 31.
Chin’ono told journalists as he arrived in court: “I am in high spirits. I have done nothing wrong. I am just being prosecuted for exposing corruption.” He arrived with Jacob Ngarivhume, Transform Zimbabwe opposition leader, also arrested on Monday and charged with incitement.
State prosecutors opposed bail, saying Chin’ono might attempt to leave the country and that his release would allow him to encourage Zimbabweans to attend the anti-corruption protests, scheduled for 31 July, and thereby risk spreading Covid-19.
Critics accuse government of hiding behind the coronavirus crisis to thwart the looming protests.
The British embassy said it was following “closely” reports of Chin’ono and Ngarivhume’s arrests, urging “the authorities to follow the rule of law and uphold media freedoms and freedom of speech”.
The US embassy in Harare tweeted about Chin’ono’s arrest saying it was “deeply concerned for his welfare”.