Zimbabwean journalist, opposition figure appear at court

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Zimbabwe journalist Hopewell Chin'ono appears at the magistrates courts while handcuffed in Harare, Wednesday, July, 22, 2020. Chin'ono known for exposing alleged government corruption is now accused of plotting against the government. Hopwell Chin'ono appeared alongside Jacob Ngarivhume, an opposition politician who is accused of conspiring with to mobilize anti government protests planned for July 31. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

HARARE – A Zimbabwean journalist known for exposing alleged government corruption appeared in court on Wednesday alongside an opposition politician with whom he is accused of conspiring to mobilize anti-government protests planned for July 31.

Hopewell Chin’ono and Jacob Ngarivhume are charged with “incitement to participate in a gathering with intent to promote public violence, breaches of peace or bigotry.”

They will spend another night in detention after their applications for bail were rolled over to Thursday due to lockdown measures that force businesses and the courts to close earlier than normal.

“I am in good spirits, I have done nothing wrong," Chin’ono told journalists while entering court. “I am being persecuted for putting out the corruption stories, so I am not worried.”

Police returned to his home on Tuesday “to recover a camera which they alleged was used by the journalist to take photos and screenshots which he allegedly posted on Twitter,” said Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, which is representing him.

It’s the latest in a string of arrests of journalists, lawyers, nurses, doctors, teachers and political activists in the southern African country, where political tensions have been rising for months as the economy collapses amid increasing allegations of human rights abuses.

The police and government officials have defended the arrests, saying no one is above the law.

Chin’ono endorsed the planned protests and “incited” people to rise against the government with tweets such as “Zimbabwe will never be free from looters through elections it is just a waste of time,” police allege.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa fired health minister Obadiah Moyo early this month after Chin’ono and other journalists exposed allegedly corrupt contracts for COVID-19 protective gear and drugs. The minister was arrested.

In June, Chin’ono said he feared for his life after ruling ZANU-PF party spokesman Patrick Chinamasa accused the journalist of seeking to embarrass Mnangagwa by linking the president’s family to alleged corrupt COVID-19 related contracts.

The arrest of Chin’ono, a Harvard University Nieman Fellow, has drawn sharp criticism in Zimbabwe and abroad.

Foster Dongozi, the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists secretary-general, said he is being “victimized for exposing corruption in government.”