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Western diplomats in Zimbabwe question Sikhala, Mahere, Chin'ono arrests

Western diplomats in Zimbabwe have expressed concern over the continued detention of journalist Hopewell Chin'ono and MDC Alliance officials Job Sikhala and Fadzayi Mahere.

The three are charged with "communicating false statements prejudicial to the State" after allegedly tweeting that a police officer had fatally struck a nine-month-old baby with a baton in Harare following a viral video that showed the enraged mother manhandling the uniformed officer.

They are also charged with inciting violence and "undermining public confidence in law enforcement agency."

Reacting to different outcomes of the trio's ongoing bail appeals, the European Union (EU) said Wednesday it was worried that the detentions were taking place even as the country is witnessing a spike in Covid-19 infections, jeopardizing the accused's lives in remand prison.

"The current pretrial detentions, delays of proceedings, and bail denials without serious charges are questionable, especially in times of Covid-19.

"The infection risk in jail is high due to overcrowding and lack of hygiene. We know this because we support prisons through Voluntary Services Overseas Zimbabwe," the EU embassy in Harare tweeted.

Bail hearings for Chin'ono and Sikhala will continue on Thursday, while a determination on Mahere's challenge against arrest and placement on remand will be handed down on Friday.

The British embassy in Harare also said it was following proceedings with concern.

"We are following the arrests of Fadzayi Mahere and Job Sikhala after Hopewell Chin'ono's arrest Friday. We are concerned too by reports of ill health of Jacob Mafume who's held in Harare," the embassy said.

"It's important that the law is equally applied to all and the rights of prisoners upheld including during Covid-19."

The Canadian embassy also weighed in saying it was "concerned that Hopewell Chin'ono remains in custody for at least two more days after his third arrest in the last six months, on Friday. We are worried for his welfare and hope that due process will be followed."

The unease by Western diplomats follows reports of overcrowding in the country's detention centers. At Chikurubi Maximum Prison, for example, a cell designed for 16 inmates holds as many as 40 prisoners.

And despite a collective capacity of 17,000, Zimbabwe's prisons are home to more than 22,000 prisoners, according to reports.

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Chuka (Webby) Aniemeka
Chuka (Webby) Aniemeka

Chuka is an experienced certified web developer with an extensive background in computer science and 18+ years in web design &development. His previous experience ranges from redesigning existing website to solving complex technical problems with object-oriented programming. Very experienced with Microsoft SQL Server, PHP and advanced JavaScript. He loves to travel and watch movies.

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