HARARE – A bail application by journalist Hopewell Chin’ono will proceed in camera on Thursday after a magistrate on Wednesday upheld prosecution claims that his testimony could put the security of prison officers and other inmates in jeopardy.
Chin’ono is back in front of magistrate Ngoni Nduna who previously denied him bail, this time seeking his freedom on the basis of changed circumstances.
The journalist was arrested July 20 accused of using social media to incite Zimbabweans to stage violent protests on July 31, but his lawyers say he was targeted for his work exposing corruption.
The 48-year-old was brought to court in leg irons, prompting Nduna to order them removed. The magistrate told prison officials no suspect should enter court in leg irons.
His lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa said she wanted to lead evidence by Chin’ono, showing how prisoner rights are being violated daily at Harare Remand Prison and Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, including lack of provision of masks, sanitisers and food which has exposed prisoners to Covid-19.
Mtetwa is also going to argue that July 31 came and went without violent protests as claimed by prosecutors.
Prosecutor Whisper Mabhaudi immediately asked the magistrate to order the bail hearing closed to the public.
“The evidence he may give might compromise the security of officers and other inmates and also that of the prison, therefore members of the public in the gallery must be excused,” Mabhaudi said.
“If the court may exercise its discretion to order the hearing of the witness evidence to be heard in camera.”
Mtetwa argued that matters of public interest should be heard in an open court.
The lawyer argued: “The judiciary in terms of the constitution has to operate in a transparent manner. It’s our view that evidence regarding to non-compliance with Covid-19 protocols will be of huge benefit to the officers who are themselves entitled to a happy working environment.
“Public accountability and the state of our prisons is clearly an accountability issue, not a security threat. The state of prisons is not only important to inmates but the general public as well as we are all potential inmates.”
Nduna later sided with the state and ordered that the bail application would proceed in camera on Thursday.
Addressing journalists outside court, Mtetwa said: “The mind boggles, frankly. We don’t know what security will be breached by speaking about what is in the public domain…”
Mtetwa said journalists from state media were granted access to prisons this week and reported on the lack of PPEs and the spread of Covid-19.
Chin’ono’s arrest came as President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government unleashed a violent crackdown on his critics, with dozens of opposition party officials, journalists and trade union leaders arrested, abducted or tortured.
The United Nations and the African Union have voiced concern about the clampdown, but Mnangagwa claims his rivals are working with western powers to destabilise his government.-Zimlive