ZINEF statement on journalist Hopewell Chin’ono’s arrest

Issued by ZINEF Coordinator Njabulo Ncube

The Zimbabwe National Editors’ Forum condemns the arrest by police, detention and charging of local investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono on spurious allegations of inciting public violence.

While journalists are not above the law and should be to held to account for their crimes in terms of the constitution and the law, the way the police stormed and broke into his house speaks to a malicious political agenda and calculated intimidation behind their move.

Indeed, Chin’ono’s arrest was preceded by political threats against him coming from the ruling Zanu PF purporting to be acting on behalf of and to protect President Emmerson Mnangagwa from public attacks by journalists and critics, as if that was a crime.

Chin’ono has of late been exposing through social media mounting acts of governance failures and corruption by the Mnangagwa regime.

He has also been criticising the government for worsening economic mismanagement and failure to reform to fix the country’s political, economic and social crisis which has taken a new dimension since Mnangagwa came into power in  2017.

Given the clearly vindictive and intimidatory nature of Chin’ono’s arrest, Zimbabwean authorities must immediately release him  and drop the crude, politically motivated incitement charges against him.

And government should also stop its ongoing crackdown on political, civic and labour activists ahead of the planned July 31 protests against growing mismanagement and corruption in public affairs.

We have noted with grave  concern the recent arrests of political activists, including female opposition activists who were abducted and abused, then maliciously arrested and detained after that, crackdown on lawyers and other dissenters as political repression fiercely resurfaces amid government’s mounting insecurities due to mismanagement, corruption and incompetence, among other things, fuelling political and social discontent.

The way Chin’ono was arrested indicates political harassment and intimidation at play.

At about 11am yesterday, police stormed Chin’ono’s house, prompting him to post two short messages on his Twitter account, which are no longer available after his account was later deactivated. At the material time, Chin’ono said police and security agents were harassing workers on his property and breaking into his home in Harare. 

In a livestream on Facebook, he recorded the police entering his home.

In a video shared on Twitter, Chin’ono’s lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, said that police had “abducted” her client without a warrant. 

Yesterday afternoon, Police spokesman Assistant Police Commissioner Paul Nyathi said   Chin’ono had been charged with “incitement to participate in public violence.”

What is clear is that the arrest and detention of Chin’ono is yet another example of Zimbabwe’s increasing authoritarian intolerance and repression toward the media  and critics, especially those who expose misrule and corruption by the country’s leaders and their cronies.

Indeed, it shows government is scared of peaceful protests and the people. 

In other words, government is scared of democracy and accountability. 

Peaceful demonstrations are part of entrenched rights and therefore protected by the constitution. People have a right to freedom of assembly, expression, and indeed have political and civil liberties that cannot just be arbitrarily suspended, breached or withdrawn by anyone.

Instead of investigating and detaining corrupt elements engaged in brazen looting and primitive accumulation, Mnangagwa’s regime wants to silence the messenger, which makes it complicit in corruption and looting of public resources.  

Chin’ono, an award-winning journalist who writes for local and international publications, has been part of journalists who have been covering the alleged corruption by Mnangagwa’s government officials and cronies on Covid-19 procurement fraud within the Ministry of Health which led to the arrest and sacking of Health Minister Obadiah Moyo earlier this month, and detention of one of the main suspects Delish Nguwaya who is linked to the President’s family, especially one of the sons.

Information Ministry spokesperson Nick Mangwana’s claim that government’s interest is only to enforce law and order is thus disingenuous and dishonest.

We know why government is cracking down on dissenters, especially now: to silence them in general, but also particularly ahead of the planned protests.

That is why authorities also charged Jacob Ngarivhume, a leader of the opposition Transform Zimbabwe party, with alleged incitement of public violence, the same crime.

Ngarivhume has been organising the planned mass protests against corruption, working with some political, civic and labour activists, which is not a crime.

So this is clearly not about law and order, or public violence; it’s about political repression and silencing government critics and intimidating citizens who openly speak out against governance failures to protect the public interest and common good.

That is why Chin’ono must be released unconditionally, and this ongoing crackdown must stop forthwith.

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