Zimbabwe Detains Anti-Corruption Activists

Government Should Be Investigating Corruption, Not Its Opponents 

The Zimbabwe police today arrested and detained Hopewell Chin’ono, an awarding-winning journalist, and Jacob Ngarivhume, leader of the political group Transform Zimbabwe. Both are accused of inciting public violence. Chin’ono and Ngarivhume had helped expose high-level corruption in Zimbabwe and called for nationwide anti-corruption protests on July 31.

In June, Chin’ono published a series of Facebook posts outlining alleged connections between Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s son, Collins Mnangagwa, and Drax International, a United Arab Emirates-based company that was awarded a US$60 million contract to supply equipment to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Collins Mnangagwa issued a statement denying any links with Drax International. Drax International issued a statement denying any association with Collins Mnangagwa or any politician and member of the First Family. The Facebook exposé led to the arrest and dismissal of the health minister, Obadiah Moyo. The ruling ZANU-PF party stated it was unhappy with Chin’ono’s reporting.

Earlier this month, Jacob Ngarivhume announced anti-corruption protests: “Our nation is not functioning because of corruption. After consultations with the people of Zimbabwe, we called for a demonstration against corruption on the 31st of July.” He said his call for protests had received nationwide support.

Human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa said in a short video that about eight state security agents broke down the door at Chin’ono’s house and detained him without producing a search warrant. Another lawyer, Moses Nkomo, said that he and a colleague were only permitted access to Chin’ono and Ngarivhume at the Harare Central police station after about two hours.

Calling for peaceful anti-corruption protests is not a crime. Regional and international human rights treaties that Zimbabwe has ratified, as well as section 59 of Zimbabwe’s Constitution, protect the right to peaceful protest. The Zimbabwe authorities should end the harassment of journalists and activists who expose corruption or seek to peacefully protest. The authorities should immediately free Chin’ono and Ngarivhume and respect their rights to freely speak against corruption.

Instead of cracking down on anti-corruption journalists and activists, the Zimbabwe government should investigate and prosecute those engaged in corruption, including as part of its efforts to secure debt forgiveness from foreign creditors to address the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

President Mnangagwa should stay true to his Africa Anti-Corruption Day pledge on July 11 and his launch of a national anti-corruption strategy.