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Prominent journalist denied bail as UN warns against 'pattern of intimidation' in Zimbabwe

Posted July 24, 2020 1:04 p.m. EDT

— A Zimbabwe court has denied bail for prominent journalist Hopewell Chin'ono who is facing charges of inciting citizens to "participate in public violence."

"He has been denied bail on the basis that he is a danger to the public and that, if he is released, he will continue advocating for violent protests," Chin'ono's representative, Beatrice Mtetwa, said.

"Justice delivery has been severely compromised. We will naturally be appealing to the High Court," she added.

Chin'ono was arrested Monday alongside opposition leader Jacob Ngarivhume, accused of encouraging citizens on social media to "participate in public violence" during a protest scheduled to take place next Friday.

Both Chin'ono and Ngarivhume -- who was also denied bail on Thursday -- have denied the allegations.

The award-winning journalist was most recently working on allegations of corruption relating to the procurement of Covid-19 supplies by the health ministry, according to Amnesty International which accused the Zimbabwe government of using state's security forces to silence critics.

In a statement, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called for an end to the "pattern of intimidation" seen in Zimbabwe, warning that authorities may be using the coronavirus pandemic as a pretext to "clamp down" on freedom of expression.

"We are concerned at allegations in Zimbabwe, which suggest that the authorities may be using the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to clamp down on freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association," a spokesperson for High Commissioner Liz Throssell said Friday.

"It is important to remind the authorities that any lockdown measures and restrictions should be necessary, proportionate and time-limited, and enforced humanely without resorting to unnecessary or excessive force," Throssell's aide added.

Addressing the arrest of Chin'ono and Ngarivhume, the UN High Commissioner called on the Zimbabwean government to uphold its human rights obligations.

"Merely calling for a peaceful protest or participating in a peaceful protest are an exercise of recognized human rights," Throssell's spokesperson said.

"The arrests of Hopewell Chin'ono and Jacob Ngarivhume are designed to intimidate and send a chilling message to journalists, whistleblowers and activists who draw attention to matters of public interest in Zimbabwe," said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty's director for east and southern Africa in a statement.

In May, three female opposition members, who said they were kidnapped by security forces for days after they left a rally calling for better coronavirus palliatives for citizens, are in jail.

The women, also charged with breaking lockdown regulations, said they were tortured and sexually assaulted after their arrests but the government has accused them of faking their abductions.

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