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Zimbabwe court rules journalist danger to public, extends detention

A Zimbabwean court ruled on Friday that a journalist charged with inciting violence was a danger to the public and extended his detention until August, while the United Nations expressed concern that authorities could be clamping down on freedoms.

HARARE, July 24 (Reuters) - A Zimbabwean court ruled on Friday that a journalist charged with inciting violence was a danger to the public and extended his detention until August, while the United Nations expressed concern that authorities could be clamping down on freedoms.

Hopewell Chin'ono and opposition politician Jacob Ngarivhume were arrested on Monday on allegations of promoting planned protests against corruption in government on July 31, which police say will turn violent.

The two, who deny the charges, face up to 10 years imprisonment if convicted.

Chin'ono's lawyer Doug Coltart said a Harare magistrate had ruled that the journalist "is a danger to the public because he has not yet completed his mission of inciting people to demonstrate on 31 July."

Chin'ono, who has gained a following on social media by being critical of the government's handling of the economy and corruption, told reporters as he was being taken to prison cells: "Journalism has been criminalised. The struggle against corruption should continue. People should not stop, they should carry on with it."

He will be kept in prison until a court hearing on Aug. 7. Coltart said he would appeal Friday's ruling extending his detention until that hearing.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement it was concerned by allegations that Zimbabwean authorities may be using the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to clamp down on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

"Merely calling for a peaceful protest or participating in a peaceful protest are an exercise of recognised human rights," it said.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa imposed an overnight curfew and tighter restrictions on movement from Wednesday to combat rising coronavirus infections. But activists say the measures are meant to stop the July 31 protests.

(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

((macdonald.dzirutwe@thomsonreuters.com; +263 4 799 112; Reuters Messaging: macdonald.dzirutwe.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

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