Click on Links masthead to clear previous query from search box

International solidarity helps keep the ‘Zimbabwe 6’ out of jail

Johannesburg protest in support of the "Zimbabwe 6", March 20, 2012.

By Lisa Macdonald

March 22, 2012 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal/Green Left Weekly -- Six Zimbabwean activists who were convicted for watching a video of the Arab Spring in February 2011 won a partial victory on March 21 when they were given suspended jail sentences of two years, ordered to each do 420 hours of community service and pay a fine of US$500 each.

The six activists were convicted in the Harare Magistrates Court on March 19 of trumped-up charges of “conspiracy to commit public violence”. They had faced up to 10 years’ imprisonment, a sentence demanded by the state prosecutor, Edmore Nyazamba.

While the decision not to jail the activists is a victory for freedom of speech and assembly, the suspended sentence is on condition that no “similar offence” is committed in the next five years. This is a clear attempt to gag the activists, who will appeal against it. One of the six, the general coordinator of the International Socialist Organization Zimbabwe (ISO), Munyaradzi Gwisai, told supporters after the sentencing, “It won't intimidate us. It will not deter us. I have no regrets.”

The six were part of a group of 45 people arrested in Harare after an ISO-organised meeting that showed a video of the mass protests against dictatorships in Egypt and Tunisia. The 45 were imprisoned, tortured and prevented from receiving prescription drugs and medical attention. One of the activists, David Mpatsi, later died after this treatment by the police.

Melbourne picket, March 20, 2012. Photos by Ali Bakhtiavandi.Made with Slideshow Embed Tool.

As a result of international protests, all but six of the 45 were eventually released. The six kept in jail were Gwisai, Tafadzwa Antonater Choto, Hopewell Gumbo (former president of the Zimbabwe National Students Union), Welcome Zimuto (Zimbabwe National Students Union), Tatenda Mombeyara (Zimbabwe Labor Center) and Edson Chakuma (United Food and Allied Workers Union). They endured another 27 days of police brutality before being granted bail on stringent conditions. The police involved in their torture have yet to be brought to account.

The “Zimbabwe 6” were accused by the state of fomenting an uprising against the regime of President Robert Mugabe, and charged with treason and “subverting a constitutionally elected government”. These charges carried a possible death sentence and were part of a crackdown by the Mugabe government against opposition activists in the run-up to possible elections later this year.

Following international solidarity and public protests by activists within Zimbabwe, the charges of treason were dropped and replaced by the charge of “conspiracy to commit public violence”.

That the activists were found guilty even of this lesser charge was a surprise to many, as the prosecution’s case had been collapsing due to lack of both evidence and credibility. For example, the state’s main witness, a spy at the film screening, was exposed by the defence as being Rodwell Chitiyo from Zimbabwe’s secret police, and the state prosecutor, Edmore Nyazamba, had claimed that “the date had been set” for the supposed “uprising” being organised by the six.

In calling for the harshest possible sentencing of the activists, Nyazamba went so far as to argue that in Biblical times these activists would have been stoned, adding “Those who revolted against authority were swallowed up when the ground opened up. Their families, including their cats and dogs, were not spared.”

On March 20, solidarity protests demanding that the activists be released and the convictions overturned took place in Melbourne, Toronto, London, New York, Johannesburg and Vienna. Statements condemning the convictions were issued by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The international solidarity and the courageous support for the activists shown by ordinary people in Zimbabwe forced Zimbabwe’s “opposition” party, the Movement for Democratic Change, to also speak out – at the very last minute – against the persecution of the activists.

On the day of sentencing, the court gallery in Harare was packed with supporters, and hundreds more, including trade unionists, students and other community members, defied intimidation by rows of riot police assembled at the court gates to protest outside.

The year of consistent pressure from within and outside Zimbabwe undoubtedly had an impact, but even the reduced sentence it won is an injustice. The campaign now is to have the convictions overturned so that these activists, and all people in Zimbabwe, can exercise their fundamental human right to speak out and organise against state repression and injustice.

The Zimbabwe 6 are appealing for urgent international help to pay the US$3000 in fines. Donations can be made at:

[Lisa Macdonald is a member of the Socialist Alliance (Australia) international relations committee. She helped coordinate the Socialist Alliance's participation in the international solidarity campaign.]

Powered by Drupal - Design by Artinet