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.
Zimbabwe’s High Court granted bail on Wednesday to an opposition politician detained after calling for anti-government protests in July over corruption and the worst economic crisis in more than a decade.
Jacob Ngarivhume was arrested along with journalist Hopewell Chin’ono on July 20, on charges of inciting violence. Ngarivhume had called for the protests on July 31 and Chin’ono wrote about the call.
Both men had been denied bail three times, but on Wednesday High Court judge Siyabona Musithu said the politician would be released from detention at a maximum security prison after paying 50,000 Zimbabwe dollars ($600).
The judge said a lower court had erred in denying Ngarivhume bail. Another judge will rule on whether to free Chin’ono later on Wednesday.
As part of bail conditions, Ngarivhume, who leads a small opposition party, Transform Zimbabwe, was barred from posting on Twitter until his case is finalised, must surrender his passport to the court and report to the police three times a week.
Prevented from protesting by restrictions the government says are needed to stop the spread of COVID-19, activists have used a Twitter hashtag #ZimbabweanLivesMatter to criticise President Emmerson Mnangagwa and encourage global pressure on his government.
When Chin’ono made a routine court appearance on Tuesday, he looked visibly frail and told reporters that he was unwell and doctors had taken a sample to test for COVID-19.
The detention of Ngarivhume and Chin’ono and arrest of dozens of activists has led to accusations that the government is persecuting the opposition, a charge the authorities deny.
The opposition has disputed Mnangagwa’s 2018 election, which took place after he replaced ruler Robert Mugabe in a coup, promising a break with Mugabe’s authoritarian style.