HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe’s High Court has granted bail to investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono who has spent more than a month in detention, but the reporter won’t be allowed to post on Twitter before his trial on charges of inciting public violence.
The judge ordered Chin’ono “not to post on his Twitter account or to create any other Twitter account to be used to incite the holding of mass demonstrations for whatever purposes until the end of his matter,” one of his lawyers, Doug Coltart, told reporters outside the court. Chin’ono was also told to post bail equivalent to $10,000, surrender his passport and title deed to his home.
Chin’ono is facing charges for expressing support on his Twitter account for an anti-government demonstration. That protest was thwarted by police and the military on July 31.
Opposition politician Jacob Ngarivhume, who was behind the foiled protest, and charged together with Chin’ono, was also granted bail on Wednesday. He has also been barred from posting on his Twitter until his case is decided.
Earlier, scores of lawyers in their robes protested outside the High Court demanding that the government and the courts should respect Zimbabwe’s constitution. The lawyers, in their coutroom robes and carrying white roses, were silent in their protest. They charged that the courts have unfairly denied bail to some prisoners and have interfered with lawyers working to defend prisoners, such as Chin’ono.
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.