FREELANCE journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, who is approaching a Harare court today seeking bail, wants the court’s assurance that if he gets bail, he will be allowed to continue tweeting without punishment, his lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa has said.
Mtetwa said despite being in jail, Chin’ono (49) is in high spirits unlike the first time he was arrested.
“Chin’ono is unwilling to make any concessions: If he receives bail, he needs assurance that he can continue tweeting without punishment,” Mtetwa said.
“He’s in a better frame of mind this time around than he was the first time. This is a fight worth pursuing because freedom of expression is a necessary part of any democratic state.”
Chin’ono was a stron supporter of President Emmerson Mnangagwa during the 2018 elections campaigned, before he dramatically switched sides since last year saying that Mnangagwa’s leadership turned out to be not much of a departure from the Robert Mugabe era.
On Oct. 26, Chin’ono tweeted about the arrest of Henrietta Rushwaya, who was accused of trying to smuggle gold out of the country. He cited sources from the National Prosecution Authority as saying that prosecutors were not opposed to giving bail to Rushwaya.
A week later, authorities arrested Chin’ono on accusations that he obstructed justice by tweeting and had violated the bail terms of a previous arrest.
Today (Tuesday), a Harare court is due to hear his appeal for bail.
The arrest is the second for Chin’ono this year. He spent over 40 days in detention for incitement to participate in violence after he tweeted support for anti-government demonstrations. In that case, he received bail on the fourth attempt.
During that time, Zimbabwe’s secretary for information, Nick Mangwana tweeted that “no profession is above the law.”
“We’ve seen increasingly that journalists do get targeted, social activists do get targeted, political activists do get targeted,” Mtetwa says. “Basically, anyone who is not within the ruling elites, who tweets, get targeted.”
The government is also attempting to expedite a cybercrime bill that would punish those who spread falsehoods on social media with up to five years in prison.
Minister of Justice Ziyambi Ziyambi says the bill will help “deal with” those who intentionally spread falsehoods on digital platforms.
In August, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), an inter-governmental organization with leaders from 16 countries, held its annual summit of heads of state and government.
The leaders urged each other “to take pro-active measures to mitigate external interference, the impact of fake news and the abuse of social media, especially in electoral processes,” according to a communique from the summit.
Last year, the Committee of Intelligence and Security Services of Africa (CISSA) said “despite the many benefits of social media, it is increasingly being exploited by some subversive elements and negative forces to destabilize African countries.”
These measures, among others, signify the shift across several African countries to limit social media freedoms. ■