Freelance journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was denied bail for a third time by a court on Monday, over a month since he was arrested for allegedly inciting public violence.
Harare magistrate Ngoni Nduna, who previously denied Chin’ono bail, said the journalist’s lawyers had not presented any compelling change of circumstances warranting the reversal of his earlier ruling.
Chin’ono and opposition politician Jacob Ngarivhume were arrested on July 20 on allegations of promoting planned protests against corruption in government on July 31. Authorities accused them of agitating for public violence.
The two, who deny the charges, face up to 10 years imprisonment if convicted.
“I’m aware bail is now a fundamental right founded in the constitution and there can be doubt it is a right. The applicant sought bail on changed circumstances, but changed circumstances alone do not mean bail is automatic,” Nduna said.
The journalist had raised the poor state of prisons and risk of contracting Covid-19 in his latest bail bid, as well as the fact that July 31 had come and gone without violent protests.
The magistrate rejected both arguments by his lawyers, accusing the journalist of trying to besmirch Zimbabwe’s prison service.
Nduna said: “Applicant said the state of prisons is a new circumstance. He said when he was first brought to court, he was not aware of the conditions at both the remand prison and Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison and therefore this was not raised in his previous application.
“It is wrong to say this was not raised. What he has done is to add additional information to what he raised earlier. His arguments did not support his bid for release on bail but was meant for bad publicity (against prisons).”
The magistrate said Covid-19 was a worldwide pandemic, and Zimbabwe had not been spared.
The magistrate said while July 31 had indeed passed without any incidents of violence, the call for demonstrations was open-ended.
“The basis for the call of the protests was meant for the fall of Zanu-PF which has not happened. So it will be wrong to say July 31 was a non-event. The violent demonstrations remain pending. The date is only a day this was set to commence. The demonstration is still pending. Bail is hereby denied,” Nduna ruled.
Chin’ono, who has gained a following on social media by being critical of the government’s handling of the economy and corruption, told his colleagues through the window of a prison van: “I’ll be strong. I’m fine don’t worry.”
His lawyer Roselyn Hanzi said they would be appealing against the lower court’s ruling at the High Court.
Chin’ono was remanded to September 1.