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Hopewell Chin'ono

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Chin’ono victimised for exposing corruption: Human rights report

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THE American Bar Association Centre for Human Rights has accused Zimbabwean authorities of suppressing freedom of expression by arresting vocal critics such as Hopewell Chin’ono, in order to intimidate and silence those involved in public affairs advocacy.

BRIDGET MANANAVIRE

In an October 2021 report titled: The Persecution and Prosecutions of Hopewell Chin’ono: Suppression of Freedom of Expression and Fair Trial Rights in Zimbabwe, the human rights centre said there appears to be a concerted effort by the authorities to intimidate and harass Chin’ono in retaliation for his public advocacy.

It called for the immediate and unconditional scrapping of all the criminal charges against Chin’ono. The journalist and documentary filmmaker is facing three separate criminal proceedings. He was first arrested on 20 July 2020 on allegations of incitement to public violence, days before a scheduled 31 July anti-corruption protest planned by opposition politician Jacob Ngarivhume.

The association said Chin’ono’s arrests and charges all appear to be politically motivated and in violation of his rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly and to participate in public affairs.

“In addition, the numerous due process violations in his case — including the failure of the police to inform him of the reasons for his first arrest, to promptly inform him of the charges against him, and to ensure his right to legal representation of his choice immediately after arrest and during his first case; and the repeated initial denials of bail pending trial resulting in a collective 84 days in prison, often in a maximum security prison despite his status as an accused person — all point to a deliberate misuse of the criminal justice system to harass Mr. Chin’ono under a veneer of legality,” the report by the association reads.

Before his initial arrest, Chin’ono was outspoken about corruption involving government officials and politically connected individual. He was one of the journalists who covered the issues around the corrupt procurement of Covid-19 essentials.

The association said there are also other human rights defenders and activists subjected to similar intimidation, harassment and suppression of their freedom of expression through abuse of the criminal justice system.

“This report raises concern that the persecution and prosecutions of Mr. Chin’ono, as well as that of other HRDs (human rights defenders) and activists, has had a chilling effect on Zimbabweans’ right to exercise their constitutional rights and to engage with their government on matters of concern. In view of this analysis, the government of Zimbabwe and all its arms, including the police, prosecution, legislature, and judiciary, must respect freedom of expression, association, assembly, and the right to participate in public affairs in the country,” the report reads.

“Ensure that Mr. Chin’ono is not threatened for exercising his right to freedom of expression, especially for commenting on issues of corruption in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe Republic Police must independently and thoroughly investigate the allegations of threats issued against Mr. Chin’ono for reporting on matters of corruption.”

The report further calls for appropriate systems and structures to ensure the independence of the judiciary to be put in place to guarantee, among other things, the right to bail in deserving cases, especially at the lower courts, and expeditious resolution of politically motivated cases.

As part of its recommendations, the association said the state and non-state actors must refrain from the harassment and intimidation of individuals and institutions for exercising their rights, as well as refrain from arresting and charging journalists and others simply for the peaceful expression of their opinions online and offline.

“Ensure that the legislature repeals or revises all legislation, including false information laws, such as section 31(a)(iii) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, which are inconsistent with regional and international standards and unjustifiably restrict freedom of expression. In addition, the executive must respect and promote progressive decisions of the courts that are in tandem with regional and international standards, such as the (Constantine) Chimakure case.

“Put in place freedom of expression policies and promotional campaigns to make it clear that the authorities are committed to respecting and protecting the right of all to express their opinions, especially given the extent and gravity of the violations of the right to freedom of expression in recent times,” the report reads.

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