Zimbabwe frees journalists held for 'coronavirus breach'

(iStock)
(iStock)

The two Zimbabwean journalists arrested last week as they were investigating the abduction of three opposition party members have been released on bail, a lawyers' association said on Tuesday.

Frank Chikowore and Samuel Takawira, working for the online news outlet 263Chat, had been held on the grounds that they had breached Zimbabwe's anti-coronavirus social distancing rules.

"The magistrate granted them 500 Zimbabwe dollars ($20) bail each," Kumbirai Mafunda, a spokesperson for the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, told reporters.

The pair were "ordered not to interfere with witnesses and continue to reside at the addresses they gave the police until the matter comes to an end", he said outside the Mbare magistrate's court in the capital.

Chikowore and Takawira were arrested on Friday at a private hospital where they were conducting interviews with an opposition lawmaker and two party officials.

The three had been admitted to the hospital after being allegedly abducted and tortured by as-yet unidentified assailants.

Accused of not maintaining adequate social distancing between themselves and interviewees, the journalists were arrested by a police officer guarding the hospital and charged with breaching regulations to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The pair were initially denied bail on their first court appearance on Friday, sparking outrage from local media and rights groups.

Despite the government categorising journalism as an essential service during the lockdown, numerous journalists have been harassed and jailed in the landlocked country.

Last month a Zimbabwean high court ordered police to desist from arresting, detaining or interfering with the work of journalists providing coverage during the Covid-19 lockdown which began March 30 in the southern African country.

Zimbabwe has so far recorded 56 cases of the respiratory disease including four deaths.

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