Journalist Hopewell Chin’ono in court victory over tweet-linked arrest

High Court judge on Wednesday quashed charges of communicating falsehoods against prominent journalist Hopewell Chin’ono.

Justice Jester Charewa ruled that section 31 of the Criminal Code, which was used to charge Mr Chin’ono, was no longer part of Zimbabwean law.

The judge set aside a decision by a Harare magistrate to place the journalist, who was arrested on January 9 for tweeting that a police officer had allegedly beaten an infant to death while enforcing Covid-19 lockdown regulations, on remand.

Mr Chino’no had commented on a video allegedly showing a police officer being confronted by a mother carrying the seemingly lifeless baby, which went viral on social media.

“I was charged using a law that doesn’t exist as part of (President Emmerson) Mnangagwa’s continued political persecution of myself,” the journalist tweeted after the acquittal.

“The judge ruled that the law used to charge me is no longer part of our constitution.”

Alex Magaisa, a Zimbabwean constitutional law expert based in the United Kingdom, said the arresting police officers could be sued for abusing the law.

“I hope (Mr) Hopewell Chin’ono will take it a step further and sue the state and arresting officers for violating his rights and seek damages,” Dr Magaisa said.

“The arresting officers should be sued in both their official and personal capacities. There has to be precedent.”

The journalist was arrested alongside mainstream opposition MDC Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere and the party’s vice chairman Job Sikhala over the same case.

The January 9 arrest was the third time Mr Chin’ono was being detained over his tweets in six months.

At the time he was out on bail on two other charges after he was arrested twice last year.

In December last year, he was freed by the High Court after spending two weeks in remand prison on charges of obstructing justice.

The journalist spent over 40 days in a Harare maximum security prison after he was arrested in July 2020 for allegedly inciting protests through Twitter posts.

Mr Chin’ono says he is being persecuted for speaking out against corruption cases where President Mnangagwa’s family was implicated.