HARARE (AFP) – Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin’ono has been granted bail after being held in jail for more than a month on charges of inciting violence.
Chin’ono’s application for bail was approved by a magistrate who stipulated that while he awaits trial he must not post on social media such as Facebook or Twitter. The charges against Chin’ono stem from the support he expressed on Twitter for an anti-government protest.
Chin’ono had previously been denied bail three times and his lawyers say prison authorities forced him to mingle with other prisoners despite showing symptoms “consistent” with COVID-19.
He has become ill in prison this week, according to his lawyers who say he is suffering from “a headache, fever and distorted taste,” symptoms consistent with COVID-19. Lawyers are still waiting for results of tests carried out this week.
One of his lawyers, Taona Nyamakura told a magistrates’ court during a routine remand hearing Tuesday that prison authorities had tricked Chin’ono to think that he was going to see his private doctor but then bundled him into a waiting prison van and forced him to attend court.
This was despite a warning by Chin’ono’s personal physician that the reporter was a risk to other inmates due to the symptoms he is exhibiting and should be isolated from other prisoners until the results of his test are known.
Prosecutors denied Chin’ono is a risk to other inmates, claiming that prison doctors have ascertained that he wasn’t showing any signs of COVID-19.
Chin’ono has been in detention for more than a month after he was arrested together with opposition politician, Jacob Ngarivhume, and accused of inciting violence for publishing on social media his support for an anti-government protest. That protest was foiled by the military and police on July 31.
The duo’s lawyers have previously told the courts that they fear for their clients’ safety as overcrowding, poor diet and lack of protective equipment put their health at risk.
Journalists’ organizations, western embassies and human rights groups say Chin’ono is being punished for exposing government corruption on Twitter.
Chin’ono had alleged corruption involving a $60-million purchase of protective equipment for health workers. President Emmerson Mnangagwa later fired the health minister, who has been formally charged with corruption.