Zimbabwean High Court orders dissidents to be freed on bail


Harare (AFP)

Opposition politician Jacob Ngarivhume and award-winning journalist Hopewell Chin'ono were granted bail on Wednesday at their fourth attempt after being detained in July for calling for protests.

In separate rulings, the High Court granted their appeals against the ruling of a lower court that had denied them bail, saying its judges had erred.

Ngarivhume was ordered to pay a bond of 50,000 Zimbabwe dollars ($602) and Chin'ono ZW$10,000 ($120), and both must surrender their passports and report to the police three times a week. They have also been barred from tweeting.

Charged with inciting violence, the high-profile pair head the list of government critics and opposition activists who have been arrested in recent months for voicing concern about Zimbabwe's deepening crisis.

Ngarivhume, the leader of a party called Transform Zimbabwe, called for protests against corruption and the country's catastrophic economic state, while Chin'ono sent out a tweet supporting that call.

The protests were scheduled for July 31 -- the second anniversary of a general election controversially won by President Emmerson Mnangagwa -- but were then banned on the grounds of coronavirus restrictions.

Handing down judgement in Chin'ono's case, High Court Judge Tawanda Chitapi said the "reasons given by the magistrate in denying him bail are hereby set aside".

He said "the magistrate misdirected in failing to find that the passing of July 31 was a changed circumstance".

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More than two dozen people including opposition activists who held flash demonstrations in their neighbourhoods were also arrested and freed on bail a day after the protests.

Those arrested included top writer and Booker Prize nominee Tsitsi Dangarembga.

In neighbouring South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday he would be sending a second batch of envoys to Zimbabwe within "days" in a fresh attempt to resolve the crisis.

A first delegation last month did not meet opposition parties and was widely criticised for failing to confront President Emmerson Mnangagwa about the crackdown on dissent.

Western diplomats in Harare last week warned Zimbabwe against using the coronavirus pandemic to crush dissent.

Mnangagwa has grown increasingly hostile towards critics since he took over from his long-time despotic predecessor Robert Mugabe, ousted by a coup in 2017.

He went on win disputed elections held in July 2018, eight months after Mugabe was tossed out of office.

The southern African country has been crippled by decades of mismanagement, and many Zimbabweans complain that the situation has grown worse under Mnangagwa.

Inflation has shot to more than 800 percent and the United Nations says more than two-thirds of the population are food insecure.

In July he vowed to "flush out" the "bad apples" attempting to "divide our people" -- stoking concern among social activists and opposition figures already targeted by the government.

Mnangagwa's harsh rhetoric and a recent spate of high-profile arrests have sparked outrage on social media.

Meantime some 30 lawyers staged a protest and laid fresh white flowers at the entrance of the High Court in Harare, calling for the respect of the constitution and human rights.