BULAWAYO – Amnesty International has called on the Zimbabwean government to drop “malicious” charges against journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and opposition MDC Alliance officials Fadzayi Mahere and Job Sikhala.
The global human rights advocacy group says the trio’s continued detention is “part of a growing crackdown on opposition leaders, human rights defenders, activists, journalists, and other critical voices.”
“It is consistent with the constant harassment and intimidation that we have seen against anyone who demands respect for human rights, transparency, and accountability in Zimbabwe in the recent past,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Southern Africa in a statement.
The three are accused of “publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the State” through social media after allegedly posting that a Harare police officer had fatally struck a nine-month-old baby strapped to its mother’s back with a baton following a viral street video.
Chin’ono was denied bail by a Harare magistrate yesterday citing “overwhelming evidence” against him and charging that he had committed the latest offense while on bail for other infractions.
Sikhala will hear his bail ruling on Friday while Mahere will also be in court for a determination on her challenge against placement on remand.
The defendants argue that Section 31 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, under which they are charged, was nullified by the Constitutional Court in 2014 in a case brought by Zimbabwe Independent journalists.
But prosecutors say the statute is still operational.
“Zimbabwean authorities must stop treating human rights with contempt and start tolerating dissenting views,” Mwananyanda charged, adding that “authorities must immediately and unconditionally release” the three and “drop the malicious charges against them.”
“Authorities must stop using Covid-19 regulations as a pretext for human rights violations and abuses. The government must stop treating dissenters as enemies of the state and allow human rights including the right to freedom of expression to thrive,” she added.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum also demanded the accused’s immediate release, dismissing their charges as “frivolous.”
“Political opposition leaders and human rights defenders are being arrested on frivolous charges and is becoming a recurring anomaly which stands as evidence of weaponization of the criminal justice system to intimidate and threaten perceived voices of dissent,” the Forum said in a statement Friday.
Meanwhile, suspended Harare mayor Jacob Mafume will also be in court Friday for his bail ruling.
The MDC Alliance politician has been languishing in remand prison for two weeks after he was re-arrested and charged with attempting to bribe a key witness in a corruption case.