Zimbabwe journalist says will not seek bail but ‘fight’ charges

Arrested for the third time in six months, Hopewell Chin’ono says he wants to challenge the state to withdraw charges against him.

Chin'ono, 48, who has a large social media following, has been critical of President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government, accusing his government of corruption and mismanagement [File: Jekesai Njikizana/AFP]

On Friday, Zimbabwean journalist, government critic and anti-corruption campaigner Hopewell Chin’ono was jailed for the third time in six months. On Monday, he said he will not apply for bail, promising instead to “fight” for freedom of expression.

The 48-year-old journalist, who has a large social media following, often takes to platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to criticise the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, accusing it of corruption and mismanagement. His comments have been unusually outspoken for a journalist in Zimbabwe, where critics are often dealt with harshly.

Chin’ono was arrested on Friday on charges of communicating false information, according to his lawyer.

“I have a choice today, to immediately apply for bail and go home, or to fight the constitutionality of the law used to charge me and as a result stay in prison for a couple more weeks whilst doing so,” he said in a handwritten statement handed to journalists on Monday outside a court in the capital, Harare, local media outlet New Zimbabwe reported.

“I have chosen to fight the use of this unconstitutional law used against me.”

Moreover, the award-winning journalist said if he had taken bail, he “would have totally sold out the journalism profession and the nation if I chose my immediate liberty over the media’s right to free speech and the nation’s right to speak and be protected after speaking”.

‘Cannot be convicted’

Chin’ono has been successively charged with inciting violence, obstructing justice and publishing false information.

Lawyer Doug Coltart told the Reuters news agency the latest charges stemmed from a Twitter post by Chin’ono last week in which he said a police officer had beaten and killed a child strapped to its mother’s back using a baton after a video of the alleged incident went viral. Police said on Thursday investigations showed the baby was alive.

Chin’ono says the latest charge falls under an “unconstitutional” law.

Lawyers have backed his claim, noting the criminal code cited by prosecutors was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2014 for being “unfair”.

“Constitutionally he cannot be convicted on a law that does not exist,” defence lawyer Harrison Nkomo told the AFP news agency.

State prosecutors have insisted there is a legal basis for the charge as the video “undermines public confidence in the police”.

‘Not intimidated’

Chin’ono was first arrested in July last year for backing banned protests against alleged state corruption on social media.

The award-winning investigative journalist landed behind bars again in November after tweeting about a gold smuggling case involving political elites.

The independent journalist was freed on bail awaiting trial for both cases.

In an interview with Al Jazeera last month, Chin’ono said he was not “intimidated” by his legal troubles and promised to keep battling wrongdoing.

“Fighting corruption is something that we should all do, and it’s not my fight alone,” he said. “We don’t have to wait for a moment of inspiration to start fighting corruption. It’s something we should do every day.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies