HARARE, Zimbabwe — A Zimbabwean magistrate on Friday denied bail to a journalist known for exposing alleged government corruption and now accused of conspiring with an opposition politician to mobilize anti-government protests.
Magistrate Ngoni Nduna said journalist Hopewell Chin'ono posed a "danger" as he could use social media to influence people to join an anti-government protest planned for July 31. He will remain in custody until at least Aug. 7.
The ruling came as a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said events in Zimbabwe "suggest that the authorities may be using the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to clamp down" on free speech and peaceful assembly.
Chin'ono and politician Jacob Ngarivhume were arrested on Monday. They were charged with "incitement to participate in a gathering with intent to promote public violence, breaches of peace or bigotry." Ngarivhume's bid for bail was rejected Thursday.
Chin'ono has said he is being "persecuted" for exposing corruption, including contracts for COVID-19 personal protective gear and drugs that led to the arrest and dismissal of the health minister.
"Journalism has been criminalized … the struggle against corruption should continue, people should not stop," Chin'ono said, climbing into a prison truck.
His lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa said she will appeal the magistrate's ruling.
The case is the latest in a string of arrests of journalists, lawyers, nurses, doctors, teachers and political activists in the southern African country, where political tensions have been rising for months as the economy collapses amid increasing allegations of human rights abuses.
"Merely calling for a peaceful protest or participating in a peaceful protest are an exercise of recognized human rights," said Liz Throssell, the U.N. rights commission's spokeswoman.
Police and government officials in Zimbabwe have defended the arrests, saying no one is above the law.