Zimbabwe court denies bail to journalist over anti-govt protests

Zimbabwe Journalist Hopwell Chin'ono is seen through the window of a prison truck upon his arrival at the magistrates courts for his bail ruling in Harare, Monday, Aug, 24, 2020. A magistrate has denied bail to Chin'ono saying that they are no new circumstances to warrant bail for the freelance journalist who has been in custody for over a month. Chin'ono is accused of mobilizing anti government protests and is among more than 100 100 government critics who have been arrested in recent months ,according to human rights groups.(AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

HARARE (Reuters) – A Zimbabwean court on Monday denied bail for the third time to a journalist who has been detained for more than a month on charges of inciting public violence over anti-government protests last month.

Hopewell Chin’ono, a freelance journalist openly critical of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration, used social media to expose corruption in government tenders for COVID-19 personal protective equipment that led to the dismissal of the health minister in July.

Chin’ono was arrested last month along with opposition politician Jacob Ngarivhume for advocating the removal of the ruling ZANU-PF party and supporting the July 31 protests that were stopped by authorities.

His comments were unusually outspoken for a journalist in Zimbabwe, where dissidents are often dealt with harshly.

Their arrest and continued detention has led to criticism that Mnangagwa’s government is attempting to muzzle the press and using a COVID-19 lockdown to arrest, harass and torture activists, which the government denies.

Magistrate Ngoni Nduna said Chin’ono’s defence team had not presented new facts in the latest application and that the anti-government protests feared by the government could still happen.

“He has been advocating for the removal of government from power,” Nduna said, justifying the ruling.

Chin’ono’s lawyers said they would appeal against the judgment.

Last week, Nduna removed Chin’ono’s lead lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa from the case, accusing her of disrespecting the courts.

Zimbabwe is grappling with a severe economic crisis, with inflation running above 837%, stoking memories of hyperinflation under Robert Mugabe more than a decade ago.

In a separate case, Job Sikhala, vice chairman of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change, who was arrested last week on charges of inciting public violence, was challenging his detention in court. He insisted he had not committed a crime.