Prominent Zimbabwe journalist arrested in Harare

Hopewell Chin’ono seized as part of a crackdown on anti-corruption protesters

Zimbabwe’s security forces have detained a prominent journalist who exposed the alleged illegal awarding of contracts in pandemic-related government procurement.

Hopewell Chin'ono, whose revelations led to the arrest and sacking of president Emmerson Mnangagwa's health minister, was arrested by security agents who raided his home in the capital, Harare, on Monday.

"I have locked myself inside. They are outside ... alert to the world for me," Mr Chin'ono said, speaking to the Financial Times. He posted a video of agents arriving to take him away on Facebook.

The arrest comes as the government of the southern African nation starts to move against anti-corruption protesters. Mr Chin'ono had backed demonstrations against rising graft and economic misrule under Mr Mnangagwa, who came to power in the 2017 coup that overthrew Robert Mugabe as president.

Mr Chin'ono's detention underlines the rising tensions in Zimbabwe ahead of planned protests on July 31st, which have been called by opposition activists amid inflation of more than 700 per cent and a plunging Zimbabwe dollar. Jacob Ngarivhume, a protest organiser, was also arrested on Monday.

Zimbabwe’s police said in a statement that Mr Chin’ono and Mr Ngarivhume had been arrested in connection with allegations of “incitement to participate in public violence” and were in custody pending appearance in court.

Mr Mnangagwa has said that he supports greater freedom of expression after the censorship of the Mugabe years. But his government has taken a tougher line as the economy and currency have tanked and a succession of corruption scandals have been exposed.

While dozens of opposition politicians, activists and lawyers have been arrested or have disappeared in recent months, the targeting of journalists is relatively rare.

Security agents

Beatrice Mtetwa, a lawyer representing Mr Chin'ono, said that about eight state security agents surrounded his house and smashed glass to enter without an arrest warrant.

“He has been abducted,” she added.

Last month Mr Chin’ono embarrassed Mr Mnangagwa’s ruling Zanu-PF when he cited leaked documents that indicated Obediah Moyo, the health minister, improperly gave supply contracts related to Covid-19 to companies that appeared not to be transparently appointed.

Mr Moyo, who denies wrongdoing, was arrested and eventually fired by Mr Mnangagwa. But Zanu-PF threatened Mr Chin’ono after he also accused Collins Mnangagwa, the president’s son, of involvement in the alleged fraud, a claim he has denied.

The government recently repealed a restrictive Mugabe-era media law but activists have said that it means little next to the crackdown on dissent in practice.

After the law's repeal last month, Tibor Nagy, the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said that "actions speak louder than words" for Mr Mnangagwa's government. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020