On the 18 July 20 activists gathered in Fremantle WA, to respond to calls from Zimbabwe political activist for international solidarity.
Activists singed a giant postcard demanding that charges be dropped against the six Zimbabwe political prisoners with messages expressing international solidarity, specifically in the struggle for free speech and democracy.
This is part of an ongoing struggle that started In February 19 this year when 45 activists in Zimbabwe were arrested for screening a youtube video of protests in Egypt and Tunisia. The footage is similar to what you view on a channel like BBC. This is yet another extreme attack on free speech and public assembly that has become a standard part of the Mugabe regime.
During February and March the 45 activists were held in solitary confinement and charged with treason, which carries the death penalty. Under public pressure, the charges of all but six of the activists got dropped and their charges downgraded to that of subverting the constitutionally elected government which carries a 20 year prison sentence.
On monday 18 July, Munyaradzi Gwisai, Tafadzwa Choto, Hopewell Gumbo, Welcome Zimuto, Tatenda Mombeyara and Edson Chakuma went to court facing this charge and the charge was once again downgraded to inciting public violence which carries a 10 yrs prison sentence. They will face court again on 22 August.
Whilst the downgrading of the charges is a positive step in the right directions, the position still remains the same that no charges should have been laid in the first place and the people of Zimbabwe should have the right to freedom of speech and public assembly.
Sadly, during this time one of the 45 activists arrested in February for showing the video, David Mpatsi a member of the International Socialist Organization (ISO), whose health never recovered after he was held in solitary confinement in February and March died on 14 July. Another victim of the Mugabe regime.
Paul Kaplan for the Zimbabwe Information Centre (WA branch) speaking at the action believes that the downgrading of the charges proved that public pressure was working and showed that the “tide was beginning to turn in Zimbabwe, no longer has Mugabe got total power there.”
He also went on to mention that the frontline African states surrounding Zimbabwe, members of SADC (Souther African Development Community) are now being far less supportive of Mugabe and pushing harder for fair elections and democracy in Zimbabwe since the Egypt and Tunisia uprisings.
SADC has being consistent in the past with saying a lot about having fair elections in Zimbabwe without actually doing much to achieve it. Where in fact their actions have often supported the Mugabe regime. In 2007 newszimbabwe.com reported SADC had asked western governments to end sanctions against Mugabe’s government. International sanctions are a key part of weakening Mugabe’s regime and must continue.
Even in 2008 when SADC put in place the GPA (global political agreement) in response to political violence and rigged elections that came under international criticism as a solution to Zimbabwe's political crisis. The GPA was meant to pave the way to fair elections. This failed miserably for various reasons, key amongst them was it wasn’t being monitored by an independent body and Mugabe ignored it and SADC didn’t try and enforce it.
In October many of the leaders of SADC are coming to Perth as participants of CHOGM (Commonwealth heads of government meeting). Paul Kaplan sees this as an important opportunity for people in WA to pressure SADC members “to show them very clearly that to get a fair and free election happening in Zimbabwe they hold the key.”
SADC must do more than it is currently doing if Zimbabwe is to become a democracy where people can hold screenings of youtube video’s without the threat of being arrested.