Zimbabwe court terminates criminal charges against journalist

Independent journalist Hopewell Chin'ono, who has a large social media following, has been critical of President Emmerson Mnangagwa's rule, accusing his government of corruption and mismanagement [File: Jekesai Njikizana/AFP]
Independent journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, who has a large social media following, has been critical of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s rule, accusing his government of corruption and mismanagement.

A court in Zimbabwe has terminated charges of communicating false information levelled against award-winning investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, saying the law used by police to arrest him earlier this year no longer existed.

Chin’ono, 48, has been a fierce critic of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s rule, accusing his government of corruption and mismanagement. Over the past year, he has spent many weeks behind bars and was hit with several charges, including inciting violence and obstructing justice.

On Wednesday, Chin’ono’s lawyer Harrison Nkomo said the charges of communicating false information had been quashed by the country’s High Court “because the section under which he was charged is no longer part of our law”.

The charges stemmed from a Twitter post by Chin’ono saying a police officer had beaten and killed a child strapped to its mother’s back using a baton after a video of the alleged incident went viral. Police later said investigations showed the baby was alive.

Chin’ono said at the time the charge fell under an “unconstitutional” law. Lawyers backed his claim, noting the criminal code cited by prosecutors was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2014 for being “unfair”.

After his arrest in January, his third in six months, the US embassy in Harare had said it was concerned for his welfare. Chin’ono was first arrested in July on charges of inciting violent anti-government protests against alleged state corruption on social media.

The prominent journalist was arrested again in November on charges of obstructing justice, after tweeting about a gold-smuggling case involving political elites. He is out on bail on the other two charges, which he denies and accuses Mnangagwa’s government of persecuting him.

In an interview with Al Jazeera in December, Chin’ono said he was not “intimidated” by his legal troubles and promised to keep battling wrongdoing. “Fighting corruption is something that we should all do, and it’s not my fight alone,” he said. “We don’t have to wait for a moment of inspiration to start fighting corruption. It’s something we should do every day.”

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