By A Correspondent | The persecution of award winning journalist, Hopewell Chin’ono appears to be a concerted effort by the authorities to intimidate and harass him in retaliation for his public advocacy, the American Bar Association has said while calling on the government of Zimbabwe to stop persecuting him.
The ABA Center for Human Rights, which mobilizes lawyers to help threatened advocates, protect vulnerable communities, and hold govts accountable under law, released a 29 page document stating in part that:
His three arrests and the charges against him—effectively for peacefully expressing his opinions, including supporting a peaceful demonstration and exposing corruption, raising concern over the independence of the judiciary and prosecution, and reportedly raising public concern over police brutality—all appear to be politically motivated and in violation of his rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, and to participate in public affairs.
In addition, the numerous due process violations in his case—including the failure of the police to inform him of the reasons for his first arrest, to
promptly inform him of the charges against him, and to ensure his right to legal representation of his choice immediately after arrest and during
his first case; and the repeated initial denials of bail pending trial resulting in a collective 84 days in prison, often in a maximum security
prison despite his status as an accused person— all point to a deliberate misuse of the criminal
justice system to harass Mr. Chin’ono under a veneer of legality. Further, his placement in pre-trial detention, in disregard of WHO recommendations on places of detention during the COVID-19 pandemic, unnecessarily exposed
him to potential infection, thus infringing on his right to health.
All of these factors indicate that his arrests and detentions were arbitrary. While the Center has focused on Mr. Chin’ono’s case in particular, other human rights defenders and activists have also been subjected to similar intimidation, harassment, and suppression of their freedom of
expression through abuse of the criminal justice system. This report raises concern that the persecution and prosecutions of Mr. Chin’ono,
as well as that of other HRDs and activists, has had a chilling effect on Zimbabwean’s right to exercise their constitutional rights and to engage with their government on matters of concern.
In view of this analysis, the government of Zimbabwe and all its arms, including the police, prosecution, legislature, and judiciary, must respect freedom of expression, association, assembly, and the right to participate in public
affairs in the country, and:
• Immediately and unconditionally drop all the criminal charges against Mr. Chin’ono. His continued persecution and prosecution,
is a violation of his right to freedom of expression and to participate in matters of public interest.
• Ensure that Mr. Chin’ono is not threatened for exercising his right to freedom of expression, especially for commenting on issues of corruption in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe Republic Police must independently and thoroughly investigate the allegations of threats issued against Mr. Chin’ono for reporting on matters of corruption.
• Refrain from using the judicial apparatus to harass and intimidate journalists, HRDs, and others, ensuring all arrested and detained persons have their due process rights respected and protected.
Appropriate systems and structures to
ensure the independence of the judiciary must be put in place to guarantee, among other things, the right to bail in deserving cases, especially at the lower courts, and expeditious resolution of politically
• Ensure that all individuals under Zimbabwe’s jurisdiction are afforded the right to freedom of expression, association, and assembly, as well as the right to participate in public affairs without retaliation, including through peaceful protests and posts on social media. State
and non-state actors must refrain from the harassment and intimidation of individuals and institutions for exercising their rights, as well as refrain from arresting and charging journalists and others simply for
the peaceful expression of their opinions online and offline.
• Ensure that the legislature repeals or revises all legislation, including false information laws, such as section 31(a)(iii) of the Criminal
Law (Codification and Reform) Act, which are inconsistent with regional and international standards and unjustifiably restrict freedom of expression. In addition, the executive
must respect and promote progressive
decisions of the courts that are in tandem with regional and international standards, such as the Chimakure case.
• Put in place freedom of expression policies and promotional campaigns to make it clear that the authorities are committed to respecting and protecting the right of all to express their opinions, especially given the extent and gravity of the violations of the
right to freedom of expression in recent times.
The report further calls on the authorities to respect fair trial rights and ensure the protection
of the right to health by:
• Limiting the deprivation of liberty, including pretrial detention, particularly of political prisoners, and enhancing efforts to resort to non-custodial measures during this
pandemic as a measure to reduce the spread of COVID-19.