HARARE – A Zimbabwean magistrate Wednesday ordered prison authorities to unchain a journalist accused of mobilizing anti-government protests, but then ruled that his testimony of poor prison conditions must be heard in private.
Journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, in jail for about three weeks, is making his third bid to be released on bail.
His lawyers have already filed a separate court application asking prison authorities to stop the “blatant and malicious stripping away” of his rights, including being chained and being denied adequate food and warm clothing.
Chin’ono appeared at the magistrates' court in leg irons for his bail hearing Wednesday, prompting his lawyers to ask for the magistrate’s intervention.
“It is an anathema to any justice system to have someone in chains being tried, what sort of justice will that be?” said Chin’ono’s lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa.
The magistrate granted Mtetwa’s request to remove the leg irons. As part of his appeal to be released on bail, Chin’ono is expected to tell the court of the harsh conditions he has experienced in jail.
The magistrate ruled that journalists and the public be barred from hearing Chin'ono's testimony because it could “jeopardize prison security.” Mtetwa protested the decision.
“The mind boggles, frankly," she said. "We don’t know what security will be breached by speaking about what is in the public domain.”
Mtetwa said prison authorities have failed to provide Chin’ono with sweaters despite the cold weather. Authorities are denying him access to a balanced diet, which he needs because he is on medication, she said.
“He is being denied, completely, food from outside, they said he must get dry foods. So he has been living on biscuits and water,” she said.
Chin’ono is among more than 100 other government critics who have been arrested in recent months, according to human rights groups. One of them is Jacob Ngarivhume, a politician, whom lawyers said is enduring the same prison conditions as Chin’ono. He has also been denied bail twice and his fresh bail application will be heard Monday.