LAWYERS representing incarcerated journalist Hopewell Chin’ono yesterday said there was nothing criminal about calling for change of government outside elections as that was how the late former President Robert Mugabe was removed from power in November 2017.
BY MOSES MATENGA/HARRIET CHIKANDIWA/VENERANDA LANGA
Chin’ono is being represented by Beatrice Mtetwa, Gift Mtisi and Doug Coltart in a case in which he is being accused of inciting public violence by calling for the ouster of the ruling Zanu PF party.
He was arrested on Monday together with Transform Zimbabwe leader and July 31 protests organiser Jacob Ngarivhume who was yesterday remanded in custody to August 14.
In cross-examining the investigating officer in the case of Chin’ono, Detective Assistant Inspector Edward Pedze, Mtetwa asked whether there was anything criminal about calling for peaceful protests and saying that #ZanuPFMustGo, citing the ouster of Mugabe as an example.
Pedze failed to prove to the court that Chin’ono’s tweets incited violence, but insisted the tweet was inciting as it was calling for the removal of a government outside elections.
He said only elections must remove a President or government from power, but Mtetwa immediately reminded him of the November 2017 coup saying there was no election when that took place.
Mugabe was removed from power in November 2017 after a military intervention that was followed by peaceful protests and resignation of the former Zanu PF strongman.
The Constitutional Court and the High Court endorsed Mugabe’s ouster as constitutional.
Pedze initially professed ignorance on how Mugabe was removed from power before Mtetwa went to great lengths to remind him how the operation was carried out.
After the reminder, Pedze agreed that the protests were constitutional, but refused to accept Chin’ono’s #ZanuPFMustGo tweets calling for the same cause as constitutional according to section 59 of the Constitution.
He told the court that he had not seen or investigated protest flyers stating that the July 31 protests would be done observing the prescribed World Health Organisation guidelines following his concerns that Chin’ono’s tweets exposed the public to the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Chin’ono will only know of his fate today after court officials argued that they wanted to go home early before the 6pm curfew imposed by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Mtetwa was furious after the adjournment saying the move by the court was “frustrating” and uncalled for.
Mtetwa registered complaints against the police, which included the illegal nature of the arrest as evidenced by the violent manner in which it was effected, resulting in broken glass from the sliding door (at Chin’ono’s home). Failure by the arresting officers to identify themselves. Failure by the police officers upon his arrest to inform him of his rights and delay in informing him of the charges that were being laid against him. He was arrested around 11am and was only charged around 1721hrs.
The State, represented by Prosecutor Whisper Mabhaudhi, opposed bail on the grounds that Chin’ono had connections with foreign people and was likely to abscond. The State said he was likely to interfere with investigations and destroy evidence and that his release would endanger the safety of the public as he had been calling on the people to demonstrate, petition or gather during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The State added that Chin’ono was likely to commit offences related to the charge as one of his tweets indicated that he was prepared to use any means possible to engage in unconstitutional activities.
The State also said there were fears that granting Jacob Ngarivhume bail would result in demonstrations across the country as the Transform Zimbabwe leader was behind calls for anti-government protests over corruption.
Ngarivhume was denied bail by magistrate Trynos Utahwashe who argued that if granted bail, he would proceed with his plans to hold the demonstrations planned for July 31 this year.
Ngarivhume’s lawyer Moses Nkomo told journalists that the findings by the magistrate were faulty at law and they were going to appeal at the earliest at the High Court.
The arrest of the duo has sparked worldwide condemnation with the United Kingdom-based human rights group, Amnesty International calling on Mnangagwa to immediately release them.
Transparency International also said the arrest of the duo was persecution of dissenting voices by the Mnangagwa administration.
Meanwhile, Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi yesterday told Senate that Chin’ono and Ngarivhume were not arrested for exposing corruption but over other matters, which he, however, refused to disclose.
“Having said that, I am not aware that the two said individuals were arrested for speaking against corruption because there are some allegations levelled against them. It is up to the courts to decide because they are a separate arm of government. It is not proper for me to comment in that regard,”he said.