Charged with inciting public violence, prominent Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was captured by security services at his home on July 20th – a moment he caught on film – and he now awaits a verdict. His three requests for bail have been denied. A prison sentence of up to 5 years looms.
What crime delivered him to this cruel deliberation? Tweeting in support of peaceful anti-corruption protests scheduled for July 31st (the tweets are unavailable as Twitter has suspended his account).
Mr Chino’ono’s arrest is the latest manifestation of the Zimbabwean Government’s crackdown on government criticism. On the day he was seized, the government also arrested Jacob Ngarivhume – fellow government critic and leader of NGO Transformation Zimbabwe – for his alleged involvement in planning the July protests.
Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, has fiercely criticised the government’s actions: ‘The arrests of Hopewell Chin’ono and Jacob Ngarivhume are designed to intimidate and send sending a chilling message to journalists, whistleblowers and activists who draw attention to matters of public interest in Zimbabwe.’
Back in May 2020, three female leaders of the youth branch of Zimbabwe’s opposition party The Movement for Democratic Change were abducted at a roadblock manned by police and security services. They had been protesting the government’s poor handling of food poverty during the pandemic. Two days later, the women appeared traumatized and beaten 60 miles down the road. State security services are suspected to be responsible for the attack.
Hopewell Chin’ono has been silenced before. In 2008, he created Pain in my Heart – a documentary about the plight of HIV/ AIDS in Zimbabwe, which is prevalent in 1 in 8 of the country’s adults (aged 15-49 years) and killed an estimated 22,000 people in 2018. His documentary was transmitted in multiple African countries and earned Chin’ono the prestigious ArchBishop Desmond Tutu Leadership Fellowship award; still, he claims that the state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation initially refused to televise his work because it reflected badly on the government.
This didn’t deter him. Mr Chin’ono produced another documentary State of Mind, exposing Zimbabwe’s mental health crisis. More recently, he investigated a $60m contract between the government and healthcare firm Drax International for the provision of COVID-19 medical supplies. His findings – that the contract had illegally by-passed checks from the Procurement Regulatory Authority – led to the sacking of Zimbabwe’s Health Minister Obadiah Moyo.
Zimbabwe’s people could use his defiance right now. When the July 31st protests came around, military troops and police officers lined the streets to quell protesters’ activity. Dozens were detained; hundreds more were likely deterred from hitting the streets.
The country is still grappling with hyperinflation and on the brink of an economic collapse. The World Food Program estimates that 60% of its population is set to face food insecurity by the end of 2020. Government corruption compounds the country’s problems. Its suffocation of free speech suffocates will suffocate solutions.