Found guilty for conspiracy to commit violence, six Zimbabwe
activists are given fines and community service. Opposition members
see beginning of crackdown ahead of elections.
Six Zimbabwe political activists, threatened with prison for
watching a video of the Arab Spring in Egypt last year, have been
found guilty, but will be fined $500 each and forced to perform 420
hours of community service.
Initially charged with treason, activist Munyaradzi Gwisai and
five other socialist activists could face the death penalty, but the
charges were later dropped for conspiracy to commit violence. The
February 2011 arrests came at a time when North African protesters
had toppled two dictators, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and
Tunisian President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, and had set their sites
on a third, Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi. Arresting the
Zimbabwean activists was seen by many as a strong signal that an
Arab Spring-style movement would not be tolerated in Zimbabwe.
President Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party have ruled Zimbabwe since
the end of the white-minority rule of Prime Minister Ian Smith in
Speaking outside the courthouse on Monday, Gwisai called the
guilty verdict "meaningless" and "outright silly," and said that his
arrest was simply another example of "political harassment by the
"We are not deterred, we are not intimidated," he told
reporteres. "To the ordinary people, this is not surprising. This is
a staple of what is happening in Africa and across the world. So we
take it as it comes, the struggle continues."
Human Rights Watch called for all charges to be dropped against
"In the Middle East people get arrested for taking part in
peaceful protests, but in Zimbabwe they get sent to prison just for
watching them on video," says Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director
at Human Rights Watch. "The government should immediately set these
outrageous convictions aside and exonerate all six."
The six opposition activists -- convicted of "conspiracy to
incite public violence with a view to overthrowing the unity
government" -- included the national coordinator of International
Socialist Organization Munyaradzi Gwisai along with other rights
activists Antoinette Choto, Tatenda Mombeyarara, Edson Chakuma,
Hopewell Gumbo, and Welcome Zimuto.
The six say they were tortured in custody. Eight students who
celebrated the relatively light sentencing outside the magistrates
courts were arrested, while journalist Columbus Mavhunga was briefly
arrested but later released for taking pictures on Wednesday amid
heavy police presence.
Political, student, and human rights activists say Mugabe is
spoiling for another fight in the aftermath of the conviction of the
six in readiness for yet another violent election. This court case
is seen as part of a larger crackdown on critics of the Mugabe
government, including members of the Movement for Democratic Change
led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, which shares power uneasily
with Mugabe's ZANU-PF after the disputed 2008 elections. …