Obstruction charge: Chin’ono acquitted
PROMINENT Zimbabwean anti-corruption journalist Hopewell Chin’ono has been acquitted by the High Court in Harare on an allegation of obstruction of the course of justice.
The case involved President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s controversial niece and gold dealer, Henrietta Rushwaya. Starting July 2020, Chin’ono was arrested and spent 45 days in jail; first on the case of allegedly inciting public violence, secondly on obstruction of the course of justice and thirdly for allegedly circulating a video that spread falsehoods.
But all the three “bogus” cases, as he described them, have been thrown out, leaving Chin’ono a free man. In his ruling, High Court judge Paul Musithu said magistrate Marehwanazvo Gofa had omitted a gross irregularity when she ruled that Chin’ono had made a statement in connection with a case that was pending before the court, when no case was pending before any court at the material time.
“It is ordered that the 1st Respondent’s (Magistrate Marehwanazvo Gofa) ruling dated 12 December set aside and replaced with the following order; That the Applicant’s (Hopewell Chin’ono) exception be upheld and that he be found not guilty and discharged.
“That in the event of the matter being remitted back to magistrate’s court, the 1st respondent be hereby disqualified from further participation in the criminal prosecution of the Applicant and that any further trial be conducted before a different magistrate,” read part of the judgement seen by The NewsHawks.
The judgement also said Chin’ono’s tweet was in the public interest.
“Even assuming that the alleged offensive tweet fell within the ambit of section 184 (1) (c) of the code, the tweet was of public interest as it sought to inform the public on a matter of public interest as required by section 61 and 62 of the constitution.
“There was no intention to prejudice any pending case as the tweet was intended to demonstrate the National Prosecution Authority’s (NPA) inconsistencies towards bail, especially where a certain category offenders such as the Applicant appeared before the courts.
“The applicant was entitled to express his views in terms of Section 61 and 62 (of the constitution). As a practicing journalist, the Applicant was entitled to seek, receive and communicate information in terms of Section 61.
Accordingly, no offense has been committed.” After the judgement, Chin’ono hit out at Mnangagwa’s government for brazenly abusing the state security apparatus and judicial system to punish dissenters Rhodesia-style.
He described his unjust and repressive imprisonment by the government as “cruel” and “evil”.
Said Chin’ono: “The High Court of Zimbabwe has dismissed the bogus charges against me in the Henrietta Rushwaya case, and also acquitted me today.
“The High Court also ordered that the state must pay my legal costs. This ruling came after my legal team challenged magistrate Marehwanazvo Gofa’s ruling that I must be tried by her although the charge was bogus.”
Chin’ono added: “I would like to thank my legal team that was led by Beatrice Mtetwa, assisted by Doug Coltart, Gift Mtisi and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR).
“This third acquittal in a row at the High Court proves what I have always said to the world, that I was a victim of political persecution by President Mnangagwa’s government for exposing corruption by his government and other players in his government.
“This latest acquittal came after I was arrested on November 3 2020, for exposing that the National Prosecution Authority had done a corrupt deal with Henrietta Rushwaya, to give her bail unopposed after she was caught trying to smuggle 6.7 kilogrammes of gold to Dubai.
“I was first arrested on July 20, 2020, for exposing the looting of public funds meant for Covid-19, the regime lied that I had incited citizens to remove the government from power. I spent 45 days at Chikurubi Maximum Prison. I was arrested again for the second time on November 3 in 2020, for this case which was thrown out today.”
Chin’ono said he suffered badly while in jail for political reasons.
“I spent 24 days in prison at Chikurubi Maximum Prison. I was arrested again for the third time on January 8, 2020, for something I didn’t do, and using a law that doesn’t exist. I spent 23 days in Chikurubi Maximum Prison,” he said.
“The case was thrown out again by the High Court. The idea was to send me to trial at the magistrate’s courts so that I get convicted and jailed. But each time my lawyers led by Beatrice Mtetwa were able to prove on review at the High Court that the charges were bogus! Without my lawyers and their ability to prove that these were bogus charges, I would have been in jail.
“I am eternally grateful to them and the long hours they put in over three years to get the bogus charges thrown out, and to get me acquitted on the three occasions.”
Taking no prisoners, Chin’ono tore into Mnangagwa and his regime for authoritarian repression and hounding critics, including journalists.
“To President Mnangagwa’s Government I say: The police, courts and the prison service are meant to maintain law and order and the rule of law, and not to punish and persecute critics, the opposition and journalists for doing their work,” he said.
“You wasted three years of my life persecuting me for doing my work as a journalist. It was evil and cruel for a government whose mandate should be to protect citizens, to instead become a predator to its own people.
“Today I am not celebrating, my life was messed up for three years. There is nothing to celebrate. We still have political prisoners like Job Sikhala and Jacob Ngarivhume wrongly jailed; they are being persecuted like what happened to me on three occasions!
“So there is nothing to celebrate when innocent citizens are in jail! Thank you to all Zimbabwean citizens and friends of Zimbabwe who stood up for me during this difficult time, and thank you to all African and global leaders that shared messages of solidarity publicly and privately.”
Concluded Chin’ono: “Lastly, I want to thank my family and friends who stood up for me, thank you.”
While Chin’ono has been acquitted, more arrests on opposition politicians Sikhala and Ngarivhume have exposed government’s authoritarian reign of terror.
This week, Zengeza West legislator Sikhala was convicted, almost a year after his arrest, and slapped with a suspended six-month custodial sentence and a US$600 fine. Sikhala was however not released from custody, despite spending over 300 days in prison, with the state arguing he has outstanding cases.
The sentencing of opposition Transform Zimbabwe (TZ) leader Ngarivhume (pictured) on charges of inciting violence after he called for peaceful anti-corruption demonstrations has also raised a public outcry.
Last week, Ngarivhume was arrested for leading and organising the 31 July 2020 protests. He was convicted by Harare magistrate Feresi Chakanyuka on Thursday and has been sentenced to 48 months imprisonment, with 12 months suspended.
He will effectively serve 36 months in prison without the option of a fine. He was accused of inciting public violence by using his Twitter handle to convene the 31 July 2020 nationwide anti-corruption protests which were quashed by the security forces.
Human rights organisation Amnesty International has condemned the convictions, saying they are a travesty and further evidence of an escalating crackdown on peaceful dissent and the right to freedom of expression ahead of the general elections.
“The conviction and sentencing of Job Sikhala is a travesty of justice and a shocking demonstration of the growing crackdown on peaceful dissent, especially on opposition leaders and party members in Zimbabwe,” said Flavia Mwangovya, Amnesty International’s deputy director for East and southern Africa.