Bail denied again to Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin’ono

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A Zimbabwean journalist who has been held in prison for more than a month has been denied bail for the third time, while police continue arresting government critics.

Journalist Hopewell Chin’ono should remain in jail, a Harare magistrate ruled Monday. Chin’ono is awaiting trial for allegedly encouraging people to participate in an anti-government demonstration planned for July 31, but which was foiled by police and military. He has been in custody since his arrest on July 20. His trial date has not yet been set but he will return to court for a routine remand hearing in September.

“I will be strong. I am fine,” said Chin’ono from inside a prison van as he arrived at court Monday.

Roslyn Hanzi, one of his lawyers, said prison authorities have barred the lead lawyer in the case, Beatrice Mtetwa, from visiting or consulting with Chin’ono, who is being held at Chikurubi, a maximum security prison known for its harsh conditions and which is usually reserved for hardcore criminals and government critics.

A court recently ruled that Mtetwa, a prominent human rights advocate, should step down as Chin’ono’s lawyer, accusing her of being responsible for comments posted on a Facebook page, although she denied that she has any control over the page.

“They are essentially stripping Hopewell Chin’ono of his right to legal representation at all levels,” said Hanzi.

Hanzi said arrests of critics of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government and the ruling ZANU-PF party, which intensified in July, have continued “unabated.”

Zimbabwe’s courts have been hearing cases of lawyers, nurses, journalists and politicians who are among scores arrested for criticizing the government, assisting activists or demanding better working conditions, according to lawyers.

The latest arrests include that of Job Sikhala, a member of parliament for the main opposition MDC Alliance party who had been in hiding for weeks after being accused of mobilizing anti-government protests. Another opposition legislator, Prince Dubeko Dube, has been charged with inciting violence after he gave employees of a supermarket two face masks marked with the words “ZANU-PF must go.”