Chin’ono To Testify In Private, No Media Allowed
The case of journalist Hopewell Chin’ono who stands accused of inciting violence in advance of planned anti-government protests took another twist Wednesday after he was asked to testify on the state of prisons in Zimbabwe but in private.
Chin’onos defence team led by Beatrice Mtetwa had approached the court seeking bail on the pretext that he and other inmates will be exposed to COVID-19 as the jail conditions do not meet the World Health Organisation regulations.
However, Magistrate Ngoni Nduna said Chin’ono can only testify in private as doing so in public will jeopardise the security of prisons.
Mtetwa had submitted that it is in the public interest for the matter to be heard in open court.
Magistrate Nduna set Thursday as the testifying date but he said there will be no members of the public, no media and no legal practitioners who are not part of the legal team.
“Magistrate Nduna bars members of the public and media practitioners from attending court session on Thursday in which Hopewell Chin’ono will testify about the state of prison conditions. He said Hopewell’s evidence will jeopardise prison security,” said Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights in a tweet post.
Lawyer Mtetwa said it was mind-boggling that the state wants to hide information which is publicly known since state broadcaster and state-controlled newspaper, the Herald reported about the poor state of prisons earlier this week.
“When he sought to lead the evidence of the conditions in prison, in particular relating to the COVID-19 regulations and the need to adhere to certain preventive measures, the state then applied that the evidence is applied in-camera because it would otherwise jeopardize the security of the prisons and the security of other inmates.
“We don’t know what has suddenly become state security when ZBC was reporting in front of the prison on Monday.
“It should not be a problem from an accused person to talk about the same thing because he has the experience of being in remand and maximum security prison. It is mind-boggling that the state does not want to hear what is in the public domain and which the state has been discussing in the public domain,” Mtetwa said.
Chin’ono was arrested last month together with the convener of the foiled 31 July demonstration, Jacob Ngarivhume. The two have since then, failed to get bail from the state, which continues to dribble past the duo’s defence teams.
Supporters of Chin’ono fear his continued detention is a way for authorities to silence critical reporting against corruption.
“It’s a clear indication that Zimbabwean authorities are not prepared to have journalists who will expose government corruption and speaking truth to power,” Robert Shivambu, Amnesty International’s spokesman in Southern Africa said recently.
“The government of Zimbabwe should stop intimidating journalists like Hopewell Chin’ono and allow them to be able to do their job to expose corruption because this is good for the country, in fact so that law enforcement agencies can be able to follow up what journalists like Hopewell are reporting – not criminalizing for exposing that,” he added.