Fidelis Munyoro Chief Court Reporter
Activists and organisers of July 31 mass protests — Jacob Ngarivhume and Hopewell Chin’ono —were yesterday granted $50 000 and $10 000 bail, respectively by the High Court coupled with stringent conditions.
The pair is being charged with incitement to commit public violence or alternatively incitement to participate in a gathering with the intent to promote public violence by posting messages through their Twitter handles between March 1 and July 20, 2020.
Ngarivhume and Chin’ono, who appeared before different judges, heaved a sigh of relief after spending over 40 days in remand prison after the judges accepted their contention on appeal that there were changed circumstances to warrant their release, an argument which the lower court tossed out.
First to be released was Ngarivhume, whose lawyer Professor Lovemore Madhuku successfully argued the matter before Justice Siyabona Musithu. This was Ngarivhume’s fourth freedom bid.
Granting Ngarivhume bail yesterday, Justice Musithu found that the grounds of appeal evidently showed that the lower court misdirected itself and improperly exercised its discretion in refusing appellant bail having found there was a change in circumstances from the time the politician appeared for his initial bail hearing.
“In the final analysis, it is this court’s finding that the court a quo misdirected itself and improperly exercised discretion in concluding that the change in circumstances was not sufficient to justify the appellant’s release on bail,” said Justice Musithu.
“The ruling cannot, therefore, stand. It must be vacated for reasons stated in the judgment.”
It is alleged that while in Harare city centre, Ngarivhume posted numerous messages on Twitter in an attempt to influence many people to engage in public violence or participate in a gathering that would disturb peace.
In some of the messages he said he met and consulted different stakeholders while mobilising for the demonstration. Ngarivhume alleged in the messages that he had met with people such as Mr Ian Makone, Dr Shingi Munyeza, Mr Elton Mangoma and Mr Godfrey Tsenengamu as part of mobilising people.
Chin’ono also got the relief he sought after Justice Tawanda Chitapi allowed his appeal also on the grounds the remand magistrate misdirected himself in failing to consider the activist’s valid contention of changed circumstances.
He said given the fact that the lower court erred, the judge was empowered to interfere with lower court’s decision.
This was after Chin’ono had offered not to use the Twitter account to incite people or use it at all, among other stiff conditions plus the fact that the planned July 31 date “has come and gone”.
“It is a fact that appellant is on remand on reasonable suspicion that his Twitter chats constituted an offence,” said Justice Chitapi.
“It is foolhardy for the appellant to apply for bail, be granted and go out of prison to do the same thing for which the appellant was arrested and incarcerated. He has in his bail conditions undertaken not to engage in the use of the Twitter account.”
In this regard, Justice Chitapi accepted the bail conditions Chin’ono offered with an upward variation of the bail amount to $10 000 from $5 000 and imposed a condition barring him from calling for mass protests through Twitter or other means pending the finalisation of his case.