By Nyashadzashe Ndoro
The International Bar Association and the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) have condemned the arrest of prominent Zimbabwean investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, following the publication of corruption allegations against Zimbabwe’s ruling elite.
IBAHRI also condemned the persecution of Chin’ono’s lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa after Magistrate Ngoni Nduna on Tuesday banned Mtetwa from representing her client.
Chin’ono was arrested last month and charged with allegations of inciting violence in connection with 31st July protests against corruption in government.
Chin’ono played a key role in exposing President Emmerson Mnangagwa, his son Collins and his wife Auxilia in massive allegations of corruption, the US$60m Drax Covidgate scandal.
The fallout saw the arrest and dismissal of former Health Minister Obadiah Moyo. But Chin’ono was also arrested together with opposition Transform Zimbabwe leader Jacob Ngarivhume.
IBAHRI in a statement condemned the State for persecuting journalists and lawyers.
“In a series of documents, Mr Chin’ono raised concerns that powerful individuals were profiting from multimillion-dollar deals of essential supplies to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In addition, his lead lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa has endured harassment by Zimbabwean authorities for carrying out her professional duties.
“IBA President Horacio Bernardes Neto said: ‘The rule of law must be paramount. Yet, at every turn, it is being flouted in Zimbabwe.
“The arrest of Mr Chin’ono is of great concern to the IBA. It is another example of increasing intolerance towards journalists and government critics in the country.
“Cynically designed to have a chilling effect on journalism, free speech and expression in Zimbabwe, international peers find the clampdown reprehensible.
“Further, the antics deployed to intimidate Ms Mtetwa from defending her client are absurd and have no place in a modern country with a self-assured leadership.’
“Mr Chin’ono, internationally acclaimed for his reporting on endemic corruption in Zimbabwe, was arrested on 20 July 2020 and charged with ‘incitement to commit public violence’ and ‘incitement to participate in a gathering with intent to promote public violence’.
“If convicted, he could face up to ten years in prison. Mr Chin’ono fervently denies the charges against him, declaring that ‘journalism has been criminalised’. He has been denied bail.
“Since the arrest of Mr Chin’ono, his legal representatives have been the focus of constant harassment by the Zimbabwean authorities. Most recently, on 14 August 2020, a cohort of around 50 soldiers was sent to march in front of Ms Mtetwa’s office in a blatant effort to intimidate her.
“IBA Executive Director Dr Mark Ellis, commented: ‘When Emmerson Mnangagwa took up office as President of the Republic of Zimbabwe he promised a “new democratic Zimbabwe”.
“However, with arrests of whistle-blowers, those with dissenting voices and veiled threats being made to independent lawyers, democracy and justice are being pushed further out of reach. Neither Hopewell Chin’ono nor Beatrice Mtetwa should be facing victimisation for simply doing their jobs. Mr Chin’ono should be released immediately,” read the statement.
Addressing the media at Rotten Row Magistrate Court in Harare, Tuesday Mtetwa said Mnangagwa’s under-fire administration had vowed to prosecute lawyers and doctors at the beginning of the year.
She cried foul over the court decision to deny Chin’ono the right to legal representation of a choice.
“I think all of you heard at the beginning of the year we will deal with the lawyers and doctors, they started dealing with the lawyers. For me, doing what they are doing, obviously it has a chilling effect on other lawyers particularly the younger lawyers.
“The idea is to say to human right defenders, you defend a certain type of, we will be after you. It is not a coincidence that there is an order that says I must be prosecuted,” Mtetwa said.