A journalist who spent 19 days in jail was arrested and charged with a non-existent crime, the Harare High Court ruled on Wednesday.
Freelance reporter Hopewell Chin’ono was arrested on January 8 this year and accused of “publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the state” under Section 31 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
Justice Jesta Charehwa has now ruled that the purported law was struck down by the Constitutional Court as far back as 2014.
“The High Court found that our client was being charged under a law that does not exist,” Chin’ono’s lawyer Harrison Nkomo told ZimLive.
“We complained from the police station right up until he was taken to the magistrate’s court that the law does not exist. He was just being persecuted,” the lawyer said.
The full judgment had not yet been published on Wednesday.
Chin’ono said he had instructed his lawyers to “sue the State for unlawful detention, wrongful arrest and malicious prosecution.”
The charges stemmed from a Twitter post by Chin’ono saying a police officer had beaten and killed a child strapped to its mother’s back using a baton after a video of the alleged incident went viral.
Police said investigations showed the baby was alive.
The journalist’s lawyers had argued that the statute was struck down by the Constitutional Court in 2014 in a matter brought by two Zimbabwe Independent journalists.
Chin’ono was charged alongside MDC Alliance MP Job Sikhala and the party’s spokesperson, Fadzayi Mahere, who were also alleged to have posted similar comments about the baby on Twitter.
Chin’ono was first arrested in July last year on charges of inciting violent anti-government protests. He was arrested again in November on charges of obstructing justice after tweeting that Zimbabwe Miners Federation president Henrietta Rushwaya would be granted bail in a case in which she is accused of attempting to smuggle 6kg of gold to Dubai.
Those two charges still hang over his head.
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. – ZimLive