Both Ngarivhume and Chin’ono were picked up in the morning and face charges of “incitement to participate in public violence”, police confirmed.
Police officers broke into Chin’ono’s Chisipite house in Harare, threatened his workers and dragged him out, a video of the arrest which went viral on social media showed. Chin’ono has gained a following by exposing graft in Mnangagwa’s administration.
His lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, in a video shot at the house, said: “We have just arrived at Hopewell’s house after receiving an SOS that his home has been surrounded by about eight State security agents and they broke the glass at his door, gained entry and he has been abducted.”
In a statement, national police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi confirmed the arrests.
“The Zimbabwe Republic Police confirms that Jacob Ngarivhume of Transform Ziimbabwe and Hopewell Chin’ono have been arrested in connection with allegations of contravening section 187(1)(a) as read with section 37(1)(a)(i) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, Chapter 9:23, ‘incitement to participate in public violence’,” the statement read.
“The duo will appear in court soon and are currently in police custody.”
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), who dispatched lawyers to aid Chin’ono and Ngarivhume, also confirmed the arrests.
“We can confirm that Ngarivhume has been arrested and is being held at the law and order section. At the moment, they are still profiling him together with Chin’ono, but charges are yet to be preferred against them. The lawyers, who are with them, are saying the police are talking about inciting the public against the government as the possible charge,” ZLHR said.
The arrests, which come amid reports that police were also after MDC Alliance deputy chairperson Job Sikhala and #Tajamuka/Sesijikile leader Promise Mkhwananzi, triggered an outcry from non-governmental organisations and the United States embassy, who condemned the arrests.
In a statement, Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum castigated the State’s response and arrest of graft fighters ahead of the July 31 demonstrations.
“The forum notes with deep concern the arbitrary arrest of journalist Hopewell Chin’ono from his home in Harare … His arrest was documented on video and confirmed by lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa who has been to his house. Police officers, with one holding a weapon, can be seen in the video. His house has been broken into and he has been taken to Harare Central Police Station,” NGO Forum said.
The rights body also noted the attempt to silence Ngarivhume, who is fronting the demonstration against Mnangagwa’s government, which he has accused of being corrupt and failing to fight the scourge of corruption that has robbed the nation of billions in United States dollars.
“Early today (yesterday), opposition leader Jacob Ngarivhume was arrested and is currently in police custody.
Ngarivhume has been calling for citizens to speak out against corruption,” the statement read.
They accused government of continued use of force to break legitimate and constitutional demonstrations by citizens.
“The government of Zimbabwe continues to use the security apparatus to threaten the safety and welfare of its citizens. Recently, the police also broke into the house of Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe leader Obert Masaraure in the middle of the night. He has been previously been subjected to harassment, abduction, assault and torture for speaking against injustices,” the statement read.
Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba, using his Twitter handle @ Jamwanda2, appeared to suggest that those arrested were puppets of the West.
Responding to a post from the United State embassy in Harare, where they expressed concern over Chin’ono’s arrest and his security, Charamba accused the embassy of funding the journalist.
“Catch the cub, the lioness comes roaring mad!!! I like the turn of events, we are now in business,” Charamba said.
The Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) in a statement condemned Chin’ono’s arrest.
Foster Dongozi, ZUJ secretary-general said: “The Zimbabwe Union of Journalists would like to strongly condemn the brazen attack of a journalist by the Zimbabwean government and its security forces. Acts of aggression against journalists such as Hopewell, who engage in investigative journalism, are a clear sign that he is being victimised for exposing corruption in government. We call on the government to immediately stop its unwarranted harassment of Hopewell.”
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) said the Constitution guarantees the right to demonstrate and free expression and the right to information.
“We have always noted that when citizens expose corruption, they are being good citizens and their work must be protected. When journalists raise key human rights issues, they do so on behalf of all of us. As a grassroots human rights advocacy group, whose members are suffering the effects of corruption, we stand in solidarity with Jacob Ngarivhume and Hopewell Chin’ono. We reiterate that corruption is a human rights issue.”
Ngarivhume speaking to NewsDay before he was picked up by police, vowed to press on with the July 31 March.
He said he expected over 100 000 disgruntled citizens to join the marches in all cities, adding that marshals would handle security and ensure protesters observe social distancing and wear face masks.
Responding to potential threats that police could crush the demonstration, Ngarivhume said: “Through our lawyers led by Harrison Nkomo, we have notified the police as per requirement of the Constitution that we will be having a peaceful demonstration on July 31. We do not need to seek clearance. We are also not going to be deterred by any form of harassment and threats. The demo will go on.”
Godfrey Tsenengamu, whose movement is backing the July 31 protests, queried why Zanu-PF was bent on crushing peaceful protests.
“It obviously exposes their hand in all the dirty corrupt deals and looting taking place now … We have had enough and so we are ready to pay the price.”
Tsenengamu said there was desperation to turn the march into a physical battle between the MDC Alliance and Zanu-PF youths.
“I’m not sure if Zanu-PF youths would be that foolish to be used as shields of corruption and looting, which corruption has also wreaked havoc in their own lives,” he said.
War veterans’ leader Christopher Mutsvangwa, speaking on Saturday at a Zanu-PF provincial co-ordinating committee meeting in Mutare said freedom fighters and members of the security forces would deal with the protesters.
“All the opposition and associated elements who are thinking of organising an uprising against Zimbabwe will face the music. We are a democratic State, any other method of political leadership change outside elections is not acceptable,” he said.
“Zimbabwe is not Sudan, Zimbabwe is not Tunisia and is not Eastern Europe. We are a democratic country which conducts elections after five years and elects new leadership.
“We stand to warn all elements to stop. Secondly, we want to remind them that you will face serious consequences for organising an uprising,” he said.
“We deal with them as war veterans and other members of the security forces. (MDC Alliance leader Nelson) Chamisa and whoever is sponsoring you, the cohort of churches and trade unions figures, don’t say we were not warned. We don’t tolerate if it is America and whoever the Western powers, we are not scared to defend the democratic expression of our people.”
Additional reporting: Brenna Matendere/Kenneth Nyangani