By Kumbirai Mafunda
Harare Magistrate Ngoni Nduna on Wednesday 12 August 2020 barred media practitioners and the public from covering and following proceedings in a Zimbabwean courtroom in the matter in which freelance journalist Hopewell Chin’ono will testify on the state of conditions at Chikurubi Maximum Prison.Magistrate Nduna ruled that the evidence that Chin’ono will give in court may jeopardise security at Chikurubi Maximum Prison if journalists and the public are allowed to cover and follow proceedings as the freelance journalist gives his testimony.
The Magistrate’s ruling came after prosecutor Whisper Mabhaudhi filed an application seeking to bar Chin’ono from giving testimony in an open court but in camera.
Although Chin’ono’s lawyers led by Beatrice Mtetwa, Gift Mtisi and Roselyn Hanzi of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, had opposed the state’s application arguing that it is in the public interest for media practitioners to cover proceedings in open court and for the public to be present as they were potential prisoners, Magistrate Nduna ruled otherwise.
Chin’ono had his bail appeal dismissed on Thursday 6 August 2020 by High Court Judge Justice Tawanda Chitapi, who ruled that Magistrate Nduna had not erred nor misdirected himself when he denied him bail in July.
This forced his lawyers to file a fresh freedom bid, which is set to be heard and determined by Magistrate Nduna, based on changed circumstances as the planned date for the anti-government protests had passed and that the freelance journalist was being ill-treated in prison and is at risk of contracting coronavirus as he is not allowed to wear personal protective clothing.
Chin’ono was arrested by Zimbabwe Republic Police on Monday 20 July 2020 and charged with incitement to participate in a gathering with intent to promote public violence, breaches of peace or bigotry as defined in section 187(1)(a) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act as read with section 37(1)(a)(i) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
The award-winning freelance journalist was also charged with incitement to commit public violence as defined in section 187(1)(a) as read with section 36(1)(a) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. Prosecutors alleged that Chin’ono incited people to revolt against President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration during some planned anti-government protests called for on 31 July 2020.
Chin’ono, according to prosecutors, allegedly posted various messages on his Twitter account using the handle @daddyhope between May 2020 and July 2020 calling upon Zimbabweans across the country to engage in acts of public violence against the government on 31 July 2020.
The journalist allegedly posted several messages on Twitter which read; “@Ngarivhume and many others have come to put their hands up and said they will lead an anti-looting demo on 31 July”, “Zimbabwe will never be free from looters through elections it is just a waste of time” and “If you feel like shouting#zanuPFMustGo and Mnangagwa and his regime has failed, how they will go will be determined by history and yet Mnangagwa refuses change will come by any means.”
Prosecutors alleged that by posting such messages Chin’ono intended to disturb the peace, security or order of the public.