Authorities in Zimbabwe have jailed Hopewell Chin’ono, a prominent investigative journalist whose coverage of corruption brought the dismissal of a government minister for alleged profiteering on essential coronavirus supplies.
Health Minister Obadiah Moyo was fired earlier this month for “inappropriate conduct” over coronavirus overcharges that cost the government $60 million.
Minister Moyo was removed “with immediate effect” after an anti-graft commission concluded that he illegally awarded the contract to a United Arab Emirates-based company to supply personal protective equipment and COVID-19 test kits.
Moyo was freed on bail and is scheduled to appear in court on July 31.
Chin’ono, meanwhile, was arrested this week alongside opposition leader Jacob Ngarivhume for allegedly encouraging citizens on social media to “participate in public violence” during a protest scheduled to take place this coming Friday.
In a video shared on Twitter, Chin’ono’s lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, said that police entered Chin’ono’s apartment by smashing a patio door and abducting her client without a warrant.
Both Chin’ono and Ngarivhume — who were both denied bail — have denied the government’s charges.
Amnesty International has accused the Zimbabwe government of using state security forces to silence its critics. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called the government’s action a “pattern of intimidation”.
“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.
Ngarivhume leads a tiny opposition party called Transform Zimbabwe and is said to be organizing an anti-government protest on July 31.
As the economic situation has deteriorated there has been a surge in repression in recent months and a series of abductions of government critics. Many detainees have been assaulted, humiliated or threatened and several have been told not to criticize the government.