BY DESMOND CHINGARANDE/CHARLES LAITON
THE State yesterday successfully filed an application that journalist Hopewell Chin’ono’s case be held in camera, saying his evidence in court under cross-examination might breach prison security systems.
Chin’ono,who is being charged with inciting public violence, is expected to testify on how his rights have been violated inside the Harare Remand Prison and Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in light of the COVID-10 World Health Organisation (WHO) regulations.
Chin’ono’s lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa had asked magistrate Ngoni Nduna to call her client to go to the witness’ stand and give evidence, but the State, represented by Whisper Mabhaudhi, countered by making the application.
Mabhaudhi told Nduna that they were filing an application to have the matter heard in camera since his testimony might breach the prison protocol
But Mtetwa opposed the application saying Chin’ono matter must be heard in a public court since the Constitution of the country allows that an accused person must have a fair trial in a public hearing.
Mtetwa said Chin’ono had not testified and it was surprising how the State wanted the matter to be held under camera without knowing what the accused would say.
“We have not been told how evidence relating to issues of public interests such as compliance to COVID-19 regulations compromised State intelligence and security of the inmates,” Mtetwa said.
“On the contrary, it is our view that evidence relating to non-compliance of COVID-19 protocol inside prison will be a huge beneficiary to officers who are themselves entitled to a healthy working environment.
“Chin’ono must be entitled to give evidence and talk of his experience inside the prison. The State did not state why the gallery should be emptied the state of our prisons of huge public interests.”
Mtetwa said the State of prisons was important to the inmates and the general public who are potential prisoners.
“The State seeks to privatise the criminal justice system before it even has the evidence. The evidence has nothing to do with the security of the prison or inmates,” she said.
In granting the application, the magistrate said Chin’ono’s testimony might jeopardise prison systems security and its officers.
After the ruling, Mtetwa said the State and Judiciary’s actions left a lot to be desired as the same media they want to bar from assessing Chin’ono evidence in court had been to Chikurubi taking pictures and videos inside the prison.
Mtetwa said State media ZBC and The Herald were given the privilege of photographing Chin’ono inside the prison, but suddenly, the same evidence had become a security threat.
“We do not know what security of the prison will be affected. All of you have seen ZBC on Monday taking pictures doing a documentary inside the prison about COVID-19, so it’s not sure which security will now be breached if the same person who was in prison now gives his testimony. We don’t know what is it that suddenly became a security about talking of the same thing which had been aired on television by the ZBC,” she said.
However, the matter will be heard today under camera.
There are allegations of abuse of Chin’ono and Transform Zimbabwe leader Jacob Ngarivhume inside prison and an application has been filed before the High Court.
The matter will be heard tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Chin’ono has filed an urgent chamber application at the High Court seeking to assert his constitutional rights, accusing the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) officials of denying him food, visitors and warm blankets and personal protective equipment.
“I also call upon the co urt to intervene in order to save our health and life. The respondents’ unlawful refusal to allow me personal protective equipment (PPE) and nutrition which is in line with the medication I am taking can compromise my health or take my life if the court does not intervene to arrest the situation,” Chin’ono said in his founding affidavit.
He said his life was in danger by the passing of each second.
“… I have had only a few spoonfuls of rice allowed on August 8, 2020 and I have had no food, water and other forms of sustenance since then.”
Chin’ono said he was praying for an order directing the prison officials to allow him and his colleague access to their legal and medical practitioners as well as visits by their immediate family members and friends.
The matter is also pending.
BY DESMOND CHINGARANDE/CHARLES LAITON