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Zimbabwe Court Convicts 6 Who Watched Egypt Uprising

A court in Zimbabwe has convicted six activists who were charged with conspiring to commit public violence.  The six were arrested in February of last year while watching TV coverage of the uprising against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.  State prosecutors say the activists wanted to incite Zimbabweans to demand the resignation of President Robert Mugabe.

The six convicted on Monday were arrested in February 2011 along with other 40 Zimbabweans while watching TV coverage of the Egyptian uprising.  The other 40 were later released.  The six activists now have to wait until later this week for their sentence.

The initial charge against them was treason, which carries a possible death sentence.  But the charge was reduced to conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

"I am very disappointed that they were found guilty," said Alec Muchadehama, the lawyer for the activists.

He did not want to say much else, saying he will comment only after the court has handed down a sentence for the activists.  But his clients, who have denied the charge against them, did not mince their words.  Leaving the court, the six vowed to fight the decision.

"It is a political decision. We are hoping maybe High Court we get a fair trial," said convicted activist Edisson Chakuma.

"The struggle continues.  We are in together.  We need your support," said another activist in the case, Tafadzwa Choto.

"It is not surprising. We are not deterred. We are not intimidated. …This is a staple of what is happening across Africa and through out the world. Aluta continua," added activist Munyaradzi Gwisai.

The arrest of the activists last year attracted international condemnation after they appeared in court showing injuries they said they had sustained while being tortured by police.  They are now suing the state for $300,000 each for damages.  

Supporters of the six could not hide their disapproval of Monday's convictions.

"What is happening here is nothing but a political judgment. It is nothing other than a traverse of justic," said unionist Raymond Majongwe.

Another man outside the court, a student who refused to give his name, expressed utter disbelief at the decision.

"If watching video is a crime then everyone who owns a TV should be arrested because they watch what is happening in Bahrain, Syria. … It is a clear case where justice has been traversed.  If this is going into books of law as cases, then I think as certainly as a nation we have a long way before we reach the freedom land," the student said.

In Zimbabwe, human rights remains a pressing issue.  A colonial-era law still on the books makes it illegal to assemble to discuss politics without the approval of police.  And officials with the former opposition MDC party have accused the pro-Mugabe security forces of harassing their lawmakers and shutting down their rallies.

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