JOURNALIST Hopewell Chin’ono feels freedom of the press is not being respected by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration, pointing to his two arrests and subsequent long detention at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in the later half of this year.
Chin’ono, who exchanged harsh words with prosecutors after his second arrest on 3 November, highlights that both his arrests were triggered by his messages on Twitter which he believes should not be criminalized.
The first arrest in late July was for a tweet supporting the foiled #July31 protest which sought to pus people onto the streets in protest against corruption, despite that there was a national lockdown to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.
The second arrest in November followed a tweet he madd criticizing Zimbabwe’s judiciary where he cited his sources. All in all, Chin’ono spent 61 days – two full months – of this year inside the walls of Chikurubi Prison.
He is now facing charges of inciting unrest and obstruction of justice, as well as demeaning the country’s National Prosecution Authority.
Chin’ono says authorities are sending a clear message with his arrests, and adding that less prominent journalists will become even more afraid to speak out for fear of rotting in prison.
“So, because of those arrests, consequently journalists are afraid of pushing the envelope and doing the right thing: practicing journalism, because they are saying to themselves, ‘if they could arrest Hopewell Chin’ono twice for practicing journalism what more could happen to us? We are not as prominent as he is and we could just languish and rot in the prisons,” Chin’ono said.
But authorities have maintained that Chin’ono’s arrests were about upholding the law, not cracking down on press freedoms.
“Nobody has been arrested under any law which has to do with the media. But if laws have been broken in other sections of our security, obviously whether it’s a journalist, a lawyer or a doctor, people will be arrested.
“Other than that, the environment for the media to operate has been very enabling,” said Nick Ndavaningi Mangwana, Ministry of Information permanent secretary.
Mangwana noted that six new television stations were just licensed in Zimbabwe, and added that foreign media houses are now free to operate in the country.
But press freedom groups say the Zimbabwean government has never stopped efforts to muzzle the media. Tabani Moyo, head of a press freedom groups – the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) in Zimbabwe – says the government has never stopped efforts to muzzle the media.
“One step forward, 10 (steps) backwards. Cracks on investigative journalism: case of Hopewell Chin’ono,” said Moyo.
“The attacks on the industry have been aggressive and we have seen the weaponizing of the law; the introduction of the Cyber Security Bill which seeks to snoop and empower the military to crackdown on expression. The heavy handedness on the media has been highly pronounced.”
If the cybercrime bill becomes law, Zimbabweans accused of spreading falsehoods on social media could be punished with up to five years in prison.
Meanwhile, Chin’ono is expected to go to trial next month for allegedly inciting the protest against corruption in July this year. – Zimbabwe Voice / VOA ■