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Zimbabwean journalist released on bail after weeks in prison

Zimbabwean journalist Hopwell Chin'ono arrives at the magistrates courts in Harare, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021. On Friday, Zimbabwe police arrested the prominent journalist for the third time in six months. Chinono posted on his Twitter account that police had picked him from his house and said they were charging him with communicating falsehoods. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

HARARE – Zimbabwe’s High Court on Wednesday freed on bail journalist Hopewell Chin’ono who had spent nearly three weeks in prison — his third detention in five months.

Chin’ono repeatedly expressed fears of catching COVID-19 in jail due to the overcrowded conditions in Chikurubi prison and charges that his repeated imprisonments are harassment by a government rattled by his social media posts exposing alleged corruption.

A magistrate had initially denied him bail mid-January, saying Chin’ono could commit similar crimes if released, citing two other cases in which, like the current one, the journalist was arrested for items he posted on Twitter. His lawyers appealed to Zimbabwe's High Court.

In the latest case, Chin’ono was arrested for posting a report that police had killed an infant while enforcing lockdown rules. Police later said the information was false and the baby is alive. Chin’ono faces a fine or up to 20 years in jail if convicted of publishing a false story.

Before the latest arrest, Chin’ono was out on bail on separate charges of inciting violence after he voiced support for an anti-government protest in July and also on contempt of court charges for allegedly claiming corruption within the country’s National Prosecution Agency.

Chin’ono is one of Zimbabwe's most prominent critics of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration, accusing it of corruption and human rights abuses. The government denies the charges.