RAPID ACTION NETWORK
06 August 2020
Zimbabwe: Release Journalist Hopewell Chinono and drop all charges against him
PEN International calls on the authorities of the Republic of Zimbabwe to immediately release detained investigative journalist and filmmaker Hopewell Chinono and to unconditionally drop all charges against him. On 20 July 2022, armed Zimbabwe Republic Police violently broke into Hopewell’s home in Harare and arrested him with neither warrant nor explanation. He was held at the Harare Central Police Station and arraigned in a Magistrate’s Court where he was charged with ‘incitement to participate in public violence by promoting the 31 July 2020 planned protests on his social media pages’. The court denied him bail and ordered him detained in custody at the Harare Remand Prison where he has been held since Friday 24 July 200. Hopewell is set to appear in court on Friday 7 August 2020 and if convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison.
PEN International has received reports that prior to his arrest, Hopewell Chinono had published documents exposing alleged high-level corruption in which powerful individuals in Zimbabwe were profiting from multi-million-dollar deals for essential supplies to fight COVID19. We believe that the Zimbabwe authorities are victimising Hopewell in an attempt to silence his investigative journalism and reporting alleged high-level corruption in Zimbabwe.
“Isn’t it ironic that the Zimbabwe authorities, with their frequent eloquent pledges of commitment to fight corruption and uphold democracy, are the same ones victimising Hopewell Chinono for his journalistic practice through which he has uncovered alleged official corruption and reported on planned peaceful protests? Freedom of expression, including press freedom are guaranteed in the Constitution of the Republic of Zimbabwe as a right to citizens and as an obligation of the state to protect. These are therefore neither compassionate proposals nor suggestions that the authorities can choose whether or not to observe. Journalism is not a crime in Zimbabwe. The judicial harassment of Hopewell Chinono by the authorities must stop immediately. He should be freed unconditionally” – said Romana Cacchioli, Deputy Director of PEN International.
Please send urgent appeals to the authorities of the Republic of Zimbabwe urging them to:
- Immediately drop all charges against Hopewell Chinono and all those being held or prosecuted for protesting peacefully against the government;
- Stop the ongoing judicial harassment of journalists and other dissenting voices in Zimbabwe;
- Respect Zimbabwe’s constitutional protections of media freedom and the right to freedom of expression and to desist forthwith from arbitrary use of the criminal justice system to silence critical journalism, public dissent and other peaceful expressions of dissatisfaction with the government; and
- Comply with their obligations under international human rights law and standards on protection of the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly.
Send your appeals to:
Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, President of The Republic of Zimbabwe
Tel: +263 24 270 7091/7
Ziyambi Ziyambi, Minister of Justice, Legal and Constitutional Affairs
Tel: +263 24 774 620/7
Paul Themba Nyati, Zimbabwe Republic Police Spokesperson and Assistant Commissioner
Tel: +263 716 800 107
Please inform PEN International of any action you take and any responses you receive.
*** Please send appeals immediately ***
PEN members are encouraged to:
- Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the case of Hopewell Chinono and the state of press freedom and the right to freedom of expression in Zimbabwe;
- Share information about Hopewell Chinono and your urgent appeal action on your social media platforms;
- Please inform PEN International of any action you take and of any responses you receive.
Hopewell Chinono is an award-winning Zimbabwean investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker and Harvard University Nieman Fellow. As a print and broadcast journalism professional, Chinono has worked with several media agencies, including ITV News Africa, New York Times, BBC World Service and CNN International. Among his documentary films include Pain in My Heart, State of Mind, and A Violent Response.
Hopewell Chinono was arrested on 20 July 2020 at his home in Harare. Plainclothes officers of the Zimbabwe Republic Police, some heavily armed, violent broke into his home and arrested him with neither warrant nor explanation. His whereabouts remained unknown to his family and lawyer for several hours. It reportedly took release of the footage of the violent attack and what was initially feared to be an abduction for the police to admit that he was in their custody.
About one month before his arrest, Chinono had exposed alleged procurement fraud in Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health involving supplies for the control of COVID-19. This report in which powerful individuals mentioned of complicity in the fraud led President Emmerson Mnangagwa to fire the Health Minister, Obadia Moyo for what the president called ‘inappropriate conduct.’ In June, Chinono expressed fear for his life after the spokesperson of the ruling ZANU-PF, Patrick Chinamasa had accused him of seeking to embarrass President Mnangagwa by linking the president’s family to the alleged COVID-19 supply contracts.
After his arrest, Chinono was arraigned in court on 24 July 2020 in contravention of Zimbabwe’s laws that require suspects to be arraigned within 24 hours of arrest. He was charged with incitement to public violence for a post he had made on his social media platforms in support of peaceful anti-corruption protests planned for 31 July 2020. He was denied bail and remanded at the Harare Remand Prison until 7 August 2020 when he will appear in court. If convicted, Chinono could face up to 10 years in prison.
Freedom of Expression in Zimbabwe
Hopewell Chinono’s arrest and prosecution is part of a coordinated crackdown by the Zimbabwe authorities on those speaking out against alleged cases of high-level corruption in which government and state officials are suspected of culpability. In recent weeks, several journalists, peaceful protest organisers, activists and other participants in planned peaceful protests have been subjected to police brutality, arrests, detentions and being charged in court of criminal offences.
The Zimbabwe Constitution expressly guarantees the right to freedom of expression, which includes press freedom and the freedom to protest government failure to act in the public interest. However, retention of restrictive laws undermines Zimbabwe’s constitutional guarantees in practice. Hopewell Chinono, as were many others, was arrested for practising his profession as a journalist and for expressing his support for planned peaceful anti-corruption public protests. His arrest and detention are part of what is becoming a trend of arbitrary application of the law by the authorities to criminalise journalism, free speech and expression.
Although during his inauguration as President of Zimbabwe Emmerson Mnangagwa pledged to uphold and reinforce the pillars of democracy, in reality, critical journalism and the right to freedom of expression continues to be under attack under his administration. Journalists and other dissenting voices are frequent victims of intimidation and assault by security agencies and political operatives, arbitrary arrest and detention and judicial harassment. It is also common for individuals to be arrested for critical posts on social media.
For more information please contact Nduko o’Matigere, Africa Programme Coordinator at PEN International on e-mail Nduko.oMatigere@pen-international.org