Zimbabwe: well-known journalist arrested at his Harare home

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the release of one of Zimbabwe’s best known journalists, whose arrest is the latest in a series of disturbing press freedom violations that recall the Robert Mugabe years.

Hopewell Chin’ono, an investigative reporter who won CNN’s African Journalist of the Year prize in 2008, was arrestedyesterday morning at his home in the capital, Harare, by “eight or so security agents,” his lawyer reported in a video posted on social media showing the sliding glass door they smashed in order to force their way in.

The police says he is charged with “incitement to commit public violence” and “incitement to participate in a gathering with intent to promote public violence” although, according to his lawyer, no warrant was presented at the time of his arrest. The charges are reportedly linked to his tweets about an anti-corruption protest being planned by an opposition politician who was also arrested yesterday.

An outspoken critic of President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his government, Chin’ono recently helped to expose overbilling by a company that was awarded a 50-million euro contract to supply medical equipment to combat Covid-19. The revelations resulted in the health minister’s arrest.

“The police arrested this journalist by smashing their way into his home in large numbers as if he was a dangerous criminal,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “The use of brutal methods and arrests designed solely to silence dissident journalists recalls the persecution of media and journalists during the Mugabe dictatorship. Holding this leading Zimbabwean media figure is the latest and clearly most disturbing sign of a resurgence in attacks on the freedom to inform. Hopewell Chin’ono must be released.”

Since the start of the Covid-19 epidemic, Zimbabwe has restricted press freedom more than any other country in sub-Saharan Africa, according Tracker-19, an RSF tool that tracks disinformation, censorship and other press freedom violations linked to coverage of the coronavirus crisis. At least ten journalists have been arrested arbitrarily in Zimbabwe and four have been attacked by the security forces, sometimes on the sole grounds of not having an up-to-date press card.

Zimbabwe is ranked 126th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index, only two places higher than in 2017, when Mugabe – regarded by RSF as one of Africa’s worst press freedom and media predators – was finally removed after nearly four decades in power.