Zimbabwe: Activists found 'guilty' on trumped-up charges -- protests keep them out of jail!

Munyaradzi Gwisai, a political activist and former member of parliament, left court in Harare on March 19 after being convicted of plotting to overthrow the government. Photo by Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/Associated Press.

STOP PRESS: March 21, 2012 -- The final verdict is two years' jail, suspended for five years (on condition that no similar "offence" is committed), 420 hours of community service (about six weeks Mon.-Fri.) and an US$500 fine each. The sentence is designed to be a chain on their ankles, but clearly the state does not feel confident to smash them. That is certainly a victory for the mass showings at the courts in Harare, and the international solidarity campaign that included the sending of protests messages from around the world and the holding of pickets and demonstrations. Viva, viva comrades there for resisting the intimidation, and also for the many forms of international solidarity. Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal would like to thank its many readers for their participation in the campaign.

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By Ashley Fataar

March 19, 2012 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Six Zimbabwe activists have been wrongly found guilty of “inciting public disorder” . Sentencing takes place on March 20. Protest messages and action are urgently required to keep the six from being sentenced to up to 10 years in jail. There is an option for a fine, so any pressure that can be applied may make a difference.

We urge you to help prevent these courageous comrades from being jailed by immediately texting a  message demanding that the six activists be freed without penalty to the following  numbers:

Zimbabwe security minister Didymus Mutasa +263 0712 200 532

Zimbabwe police commissioner Augustine Chihuri +263 712 808 290

Zimbabwe police minister Kembo Mohadi +263 712 605 424

Emails, faxes and phone calls should be also directed to the Zimbabwe embassies and consulates in your countries.

In the United States, send emails calling the activists' immediate release to: info33@zimbabwe-embassy.us, consular@zimbabwe-embassy.us, gapare@zimbabwe-embassy.us, mhute@zimbabwe-embassy.us, goora@zimbabwe-embassy.us, chinoingira@zimbabwe-embassy.us, nyamapfeni@zimbabwe-embassy.us and mukupe@zimbabwe-embassy.us.

Donate to the "Free the Zimbabwe 45" fund to contribute to the legal defence of the activists, as well as support for their families.

Protests set so far for on March 20:

South Africa:  12 noon, Zimbabwe consulate, 13 Boeing Street West, Bedfordview, Johannesburg (opposite Eastgate shopping centre).

Britain: Embassy of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe House, 429 Strand, London, WC2R 0QE. Phone 020 7379 1167, email zimlondon@yahoo.co.uk for more details.

Australia: Melbourne solidarity action with Zimbabwe activists facing years in jail, 5.15 pm, GPO, City, Corner Bourke and Elizabeth streets.

United States: New York City: Embassy of the Republic of Zimbabwe, 1608 New Hampshire Avenue NW (about two blocks from Dupont Circle), http://www.zimbabwe-embassy.us/contact.html.  For more information, contact mclemee@gmail.com.

Washington DC: Protest outside the embassy in Washington, DC at 5 pm.

Austria: Protest in front of the embassy of Zimbabwe, Vienna, 11 am. https://www.facebook.com/events/409210405771652

As Tatenda Mombeyarara (one of the convicted activists) has put it, "I am devastated. We were convicted and found guilty. Tomorrow we will go for mitigation and probably sentencing. Lawyers have indicated that there is an option for a fine as well as custodial up to a maximum of 10 years. Comrades did come and I am gratefull. If the worst happens, its been an honour to chat with you. Keep up the revolutionary flame burning. This can't continue so there must be unity of purpose till we smash this ruthless system. Got to go I am a bit down"

These are sad but brave words. Tatenda is only 30 years old. He and his comrades deserve our admiration and solidarity.

Another of the convicted activists, Munyaradzi Gwisai puts it,  "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."
Gwisai had told the court during his trial that the charges were "meaningless", "outright silly" and "a case of political harassment by the state".

The United States Socialist Worker on March 19, 2012, published the following summary of the case. For earlier coverage of the campaign to release the Zimbabwe activists, see http://links.org.au/taxonomy/term/171.

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Hemos recibido la siguiente petición de ayuda urgente para cinco activistas de Zimbabwe. Es necesario que cuantos más mensajes de texto por sms se envíen, mejor. El miedo de las autoridades de ese país demuestra hasta qué punto la onda expansiva de las revoluciones de Egipto y Túnez están alcanzando el continente africano. Ese pequeño esfuerzo político y económico que se realiza con ese actop de solidaridad puede ayudar a frenar los intentos represivos de regímenes que sólo saben usar la represión contra las libertades más elementales, como el derecho a ver una película o documental y comentarla.

Gracias por vuestro apoyo y solidaridad.

Esta es la carta recibida desde la organización hermana Alianza Socialista de Australia:

Queridos compañeros y amigos,

La  pasada noche del19 de marzo el dirigente de ISO de Zimbabwe, Munyaradzi Gwisai y sus cinco compañeros, fueron declarados culpables por el estado de Zimbabwe de " de incitar a desórdenes públicos", después de que se organizó el pase de una película  y debate sobre el levantamiento de Egipto el año pasado en el Centro de Trabajo en Harare. La brutal condena del aparato de seguridad en Zimbabwe da luz verde para perseguir y procesar a gente común por ver una película o atreverse a hablar sobre acontecimientos que tienen lugar en otro país.

Los activistas de la ISO serán condenados en las próximas 24 horas y pueden hacer frente a 10 años de prisión (lo que en las cárceles de Zimbabue puede significar una sentencia de muerte).

Le instamos a ayudar a impedir que estos valientes compañeros sean encarceladode mandando de inmediato un mensaje  de texto pidiendo que los seis activistas de sean liberado sin cargo a los siguientes números:

Zimbabwe ministro de Seguridad, Didymus Mutasa +263 0712 200 532
Zimbabwe Comisionado de la Policía Agustín Chihuri 263 712 808 290
Zimbabwe ministro de Policía, Kembo Mohadi 263 712 605 424

Mugabe's iron fist aimed at activists

By Nicole Colson

March 19, 2012 -- More than a year after they first were arrested, six Zimbabwean activists are facing a verdict this week on charges that they attempted to foment public disorder. Their "crime"? Showing a video of the protests against dictatorship in Egypt and Tunisia.

On February 19 of last year, 45 activists, students and unionists were arrested in Harare during a meeting to discuss events in Egypt and Tunisia, and to commemorate the life of HIV activist Navigator Mungoni, who had recently died.

The meeting was called by Munyaradzi Gwisai, a lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe's law school, general coordinator of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) of Zimbabwe, and a former member of Zimbabwe's parliament.

State security agents broke into the meeting, seizing laptop computers, DVDs and a video projector, before arresting the dozens in attendance. The offending DVDs allegedly included clips from BBC World News and Al Jazeera. Members of Zimbabwe's secret police may have been operating under cover among the attendees of the meeting.

Initially, the activists faced charges of treason and "subverting a constitutionally elected government"--which are punishable by a possible death sentence. But all the activists did was stand in opposition to the brutally regime of Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe. According to the state, they were attempting to foment an uprising.

Their arrest came as Mugabe and his Zanu-PF ruling party, in the run-up to this year's elections and in the wake of the mass rebellions against tyranny across the Arab world, escalated attacks on political rivals. The government carried out a campaign of intimidation and violence against all rivals, including those in the opposition Movement for Democratic Change--whose members also faced mass arrests in early 2011.

During the early days of their arrest, Gwisai and the other activists were tortured by their captors. Lawyers for the activists stated that some had been beaten on their bodies and the soles of their feet with broomsticks and metal rods.

Most of those initially arrested were released after two weeks in custody, and others were eventually granted bail--a result of widespread outrage and an activist campaign that drew attention to the case and included pickets outside the Zimbabwean embassy in Washington, D.C., and the Zimbabwean mission in New York City; protests of trade unionists and other activists in South Africa, Britain, Australia and Sweden; and statements of support from Egyptian revolutionaries, South African trade unionists and others around the globe.

But the Mugabe regime insisted on pushing forward with charges against six activists it deemed the "ringleaders": Gwisai, Tafadzwa Antonater Choto, Hopewell Gumbo (former president of the Zimbabwe National Students Union), Welcome Zimuto (of the Zimbabwe National Students Union), Tatenda Mombeyara (of the Zimbabwe Labor Center) and Edson Chakuma (of the United Food and Allied Workers Union).

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On March 19, exactly one year after their release on bail, these six activists will go to court to hear the magistrate hand down a verdict in their cases. If found guilty, they face jail terms of 6 to 10 years--a potential death sentence given the inhumane conditions inside Zimbabwe's prison system and the brutality they will likely face behind bars.

As the South African Municipal Workers Union wrote in a statement:

The evidence put before the court by the State is flimsy, biased and shrouded in innuendo and paranoia. If the six are convicted it will mean that the security apparatus in Zimbabwe will have unlimited powers to send perfectly innocent people to prison for watching a film, or worse, for even daring to discuss events unfolding in another country!...

As far as the state is concerned, this group of peaceful socialist activists were about to launch a revolution and take power for themselves! In other words, if you watch a film about the events in Egypt, you must be preparing to organize a violent uprising in Harare! On this reasoning, thousands of those who tuned into Al Jazeera during the North African turmoil are guilty, too!...

Logic and reason are not being applied in this court by the state. Instead, it is deploying the worst forms of guilt by association and conspiracy-mongering to stifle any opposition to rule by Zanu-PF.

The state is desperate to close down any avenue for discussion in the build-up to the upcoming elections that might allow important questions to be raised about the illegal human rights abuses of Zanu-PF, the state of corruption and patronage at work in the country and the continuing poverty experienced by the masses. This is the real agenda. Speak out, and you can expect to be punished and sent to prison.

This union urges all of those who stand for democratic and human rights, including members of the tripartite alliance and all of civil society across the region to be ready to defend the six socialists...We must all be ready to send a message to the Zimbabwean government that intolerance of this type is not acceptable and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.

International solidarity will be key. Activists around the globe must stand against this injustice and in defense of these Zimbabwean activists.