HARARE — Zimbabwe’s high court on Wednesday quashed charges of communicating false information levelled against journalist and government critic Hopewell Chin’ono, saying the law used by police to arrest him in January no longer existed.
Chin’ono, 50, has been detained three times since he backed banned anti-government protests on social media in July, when he was first arrested and charged with inciting public violence.
Two tweets landed him back in jail for allegedly obstructing justice in November and later publishing false information in January. The high court of Zimbabwe dismissed the latter charge on Wednesday, declaring it had no legal basis.
Chin’ono, who has a large social media following, has been critical of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s rule, accusing his government of corruption and mismanagement.
His comments have been unusually outspoken for a journalist in Zimbabwe, where critics are often dealt with harshly.
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“The charges were terminated by the high court because the section under which he was charged is no longer part of our law,” said Harrison Nkomo, Chin’ono’s lawyer.
Lawyers had argued that Chin’ono had been charged under a section of the criminal code that had been struck down by the supreme court in 2014.
On Wednesday, the high court judge Jesta Charehwa ruled “the argument is upheld … Charges against the appellant [are] hereby quashed.”
Chin’ono celebrated the ruling on his Twitter account. “Charged with a law that doesn’t exist,” he wrote. “That is persecution.”
Although 1 case used to politically persecute me has been quashed by the High Court, the State still refuses to give me my camera & journalism equipment.
The idea is to cripple my work.
There are still 2 more outstanding cases built on trumped-up charges as part of harassing me pic.twitter.com/DBZHk7JdFr
— Hopewell Chin’ono Today (@daddyhope) April 28, 2021
After his arrest in January, his third in six months, the US embassy in Harare said it was concerned for his welfare.
The journalist was last jailed for posting a video he claimed showed a police officer beating a baby to death while enforcing Covid-19 lockdown rules – an account that was vehemently denied.
In November, Chin’ono was arrested for posting a tweet ahead of a judicial decision. He is facing trial for the alleged obstruction of justice in that case.
He is freed on bail and banned from using Twitter to post anything that might incite public revolt against the government.
Zimbabwe’s president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, is increasingly under fire for thwarting dissent since he took over from the longtime leader Robert Mugabe in November 2017.
Chin’ono was first arrested in July on charges of inciting violent antigovernment protests. He was arrested again in November on charges of obstructing justice.
He is out on bail on the other two charges, which he denies and accuses Mnangagwa’s government of persecuting him.