Zimbabwe: Sentencing of activists a 'setback' for freedom of expression
The decision to convict and sentence six activists to community service and a fine for organizing a video screening on events in North Africa last year is a setback for freedom of expression in Zimbabwe, Amnesty International said.The court ordered the men to carry out 420 hours of community service and fined them US$500 after they were found guilty of “conspiracy to commit public violence”.“The court’s decision to convict people who were merely exercising their internationally guaranteed right to freedom of expression is simply shocking. It’s a reminder that Zimbabwe is still an unsafe place for activists,” said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International’s Director for Africa.“This ruling instils fear in anyone defending human rights in Zimbabwe. It is likely to restrict the work of activists in the country, and the convictions should be overturned immediately.”The six convicted activists are University of Zimbabwe law lecturer and former opposition parliamentarian Munyaradzi Gwisai, anti-debt campaigner Hopewell Gumbo, Zimbabwe Labour Centre director Antoneta Choto, student leader Welcome Zimuto, and social activists Eddson Chakuma and Tatenda Mombeyarara. Munyaradzi Gwisai and 44 social justice, trade union and human rights activists were arrested by police in February 2011 as they were attending a lecture entitled ’Revolt in Egypt and Tunisia - What lessons can be learnt by Zimbabwe and Africa’. Thirty-nine of the activists were later acquitted.Following their arrest, all six activists told the court that they were tortured while in police custody and spent some 27 days in jail before being released on stringent bail conditions.“The conviction of these activists shows there is still an urgent need for reforms to ensure respect for people’s human rights in Zimbabwe. The unity government has done little to respect and protect fundamental freedoms“ said Erwin van der Borght.