By Professor Matodzi
Harare, July 5, 2015 – His world came crumbling on Tuesday 23 June. It was the day when he was shockingly convicted and sentenced to serve eight months in prison.
His only crime was to aspire to be a publisher of a new newspaper, The Southern Mirror, in Zimbabwe’s southern province of Masvingo and help the marginalised community access alternative information from the propaganda that is spewed on a daily basis by the state-run media outlets.
For simply seeking to close the information gap, Patrick Chitongo, a freelance journalist based in the sugarcane growing area of Chiredzi had to endure nine days at Buffalo Range prison in Chiredzi where he was detained with some hard-core criminals as he began serving his prison term.
But his stint at Buffalo Range prison had to be cut short after his lawyer Martin Mureri of Matutu and Mureri Legal Practitioners, a member of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, tenaciously fought for the release of the freelance journalist on $200 bail.
In an interview with Radio VOP soon after his release from jail, Chitongo spoke about the miserable prison conditions that he endured for more than one week.
“It was very difficult. The situation is very pathetic. There is no food and provision of food is very erratic to the extent that I have lost weight. I was denied food from home,” Chitongo told Radio VOP.
The freelance journalist said prisoners were fed with porridge with no sugar for breakfast and sadza with vegetables and beans for lunch and supper.
Instead of being detained in the “B” section of the prison, which accommodates other convicted prisoners, Chitongo was held in what is considered as the “maximum security” section of Buffalo Range Prison together with inmates charged with murder and other serious crimes.
“They told me that I was a security threat,” said Chitongo.
The freelance journalist heaped praise on his lawyer Mureri for working hard to have him freed.
“I don’t know how to thank him. He worked tirelessly and he proved his mark. I would also want to thank the MISA-Zimbabwe family for the support they rendered my family, and me” Chitongo said.
Shockingly, Chitongo told Radio VOP that he was visited while in prison by two unidentified men on Friday night who interrogated him about an email conversation which he had had with Kumbirai Mafunda, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights communications officer,who is also the current MISA chairperson some days before he was imprisoned pertaining to the alleged discovery of some human remains which were reportedly found in the sugarcane growing town.
“They interrogated me about the conversation I had had with Mafunda on email and why I was communicating with him. That is when I realised that they could have accessed my email. They also asked me about details of the political party that I supported,” Chitongo said.
Chitongo alleged that the unidentified men offered him a “fruity drink” during the interrogation and he had to seek medical attention from the prison clinic, where he alleged that he was offered some medication, which he is reacting to.
For now Chitongo is a free man and is now hoping that the High Court will quash his jail sentence when it presides over his appeal against both conviction and sentence after Mureri filed a notice of appeal arguing that Magistrate Mhlanga erred and misdirected himself in finding him guilty and imposing a prison term.