A Zimbabwe opposition politician and a journalist detained for more than a month on suspicion of planning anti-government protests over corruption and the worst economic crisis in more than a decade were released on bail on Wednesday.
Jacob Ngarivhume, who leads a small opposition party, Transform Zimbabwe, called for the protests on 31 July and was charged with inciting violence.
Journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, who has been critical of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government, also faced the same charge after writing in support of the demonstrations.
Both men had been denied bail three times before Wednesday’s Zimbabwe’s High Court rulings which barred them from posting on Twitter until their cases were finalised.
Prevented from protesting by restrictions the government says are needed to stop the spread of COVID-19, activists have used a Twitter hashtag #ZimbabweanLivesMatter to criticize Mnangagwa and encourage global pressure on his government.
Judge Siyabona Musithu said Ngarivhume would be released from detention at a maximum security prison after paying 50 000 Zimbabwe dollars ($600). Judge Tawanda Chitapi also later ruled that Chin’ono be freed on 10 000 Zimbabwe dollars bail.
When Chin’ono made a routine court appearance on Tuesday, he looked visibly frail and told reporters that he was unwell and that doctors had taken a sample to test for COVID-19. Neither man was in court on Wednesday.
The detention of Ngarivhume and Chin’ono and arrest of dozens of activists has led to accusations that the government is persecuting the opposition, a charge the authorities deny.
The opposition has disputed Mnangagwa’s 2018 election, which took place after he replaced ruler Robert Mugabe in a coup, promising a break with Mugabe’s authoritarian instincts.