Zimbabwe police arrested journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, a staunch critic of the socialist government, for the second time on Tuesday. He was charged with contempt of court for posting on Twitter in defiance of the agreement that saw him released on bail in September.
Chin’ono was arrested in July, a few weeks after he used Twitter to publish an expose on corruption in the Zimbabwean Health Ministry. According to his story, the ministry awarded contracts for some $60 million in coronavirus test kits and protective equipment without proper oversight or competitive contracts.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa fired Health Minister Obadiah Moyo after Chin’ono blew the whistle. Moyo was formally charged with corruption soon after his sacking, along with an executive from one of the companies involved in the alleged scheme. The company in question, a UAE-based firm called Drax International, was linked to Collins Mnangagwa, son of the Zimbabwean president.
Chin’ono was arrested on charges of “inciting public violence” on July 20, along with opposition politician Jacob Ngarivhume. The two were accused of conspiring to launch violent protests against government corruption. Chin’ono livestreamed his arrest, conducted by armed men who smashed in his dining room door and took him into custody without a warrant.
Local and international critics of the Mnangagwa government widely assumed Chin’ono was arrested to shut down his anti-corruption reporting. Chin’ono himself warned “journalism has been criminalized” as he was carted off to prison.
“Instead of detaining those responsible for stealing public funds, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s security forces would rather employ strong-arm tactics to silence the messenger,” complained Angela Quintal, Africa director for the Committee to Protect Journalists.
“This is a regime that understands that it is incredibly vulnerable. It is not there by popular legitimacy. Hopewell in particular has been at the forefront of exposing that, and Jacob is at the forefront of advocating protests against it. That’s what this is about. This is effectively an insecure regime trying to block the voices of those who want to help citizens understand the connections between corruption and their suffering,” said human rights lawyer Doug Coltart.
Six weeks later, Chin’ono was released on bail. One of the conditions of his release was that he would refrain from posting anything on Twitter. The defiant journalist vowed to keep writing on other platforms and said the government made a “mistake” by arresting him.
Chin’ono was arrested on Tuesday for allegedly violating the terms of his bail agreement by writing a post on Twitter that “impaired the dignity of Zimbabwe’s Chief Justice Luke Malaba,” as the Associated Press put it.
Specifically, Chin’ono accused Malaba of attempting to block his release on bail because the Mnangagwa regime wanted to keep him jailed. Zimbabwean judges wrote an open letter last week complaining they are afraid to hand down any rulings that would displease the government because Malaba interferes in court so frequently.
Chin’ono’s lawyers denounced the contempt of court charges against him as absurd. He could face up to a year in prison if convicted.