The process was grueling and dragged on for two years – the pronouncement of the verdict had also been postponed several times. But now the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Court in the capital Harare has found the author Tsitsi Dangarembga guilty on all charges and sentenced to six months probation, suspended for five years. In addition, the writer has to pay a fine of 70,000 Zimbabwean dollars (around 200 euros). The court gave the same verdict to Damgarembga’s co-defendant, journalist Julie Barnes.
Six months probation and fine
Barbara Groeblinghoff, a trial observer at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Harare, told the German Press Agency that Dangarembga’s defense lawyers have presented mitigating circumstances and argued that the impending prison sentence should not be imposed. Instead, the court should sentence Dangarembga to serve the community.
The winner of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade was arrested and ultimately charged because she and her colleague Julie Barnes joined a peaceful demonstration last July. The population had previously been instructed to stay at home. Hundreds of police officers and soldiers were deployed to enforce the measures.
The southern African country has been in a deep economic and political crisis since longtime President Robert Mugabe was ousted and his former deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa took power in 2017.
Dangarembga and Barnes carried placards calling for reform, the release of jailed journalists and “a better Zimbabwe for all”. The women are said to have been guilty of disturbing the peace, bigotry and inciting violence – allegations that in the past have led to the arrests of several other protesters and activists who have expressed criticism of the government.
Allegations: public incitement to violence, breach of the peace, bigotry
For example, the investigative journalist Hopewell Chi’Nono, who revealed in 2020 that members of the government were letting money to fight the pandemic disappear into their own pockets and called for protests. He was then held in custody for a month and was mistreated.
Organization estimates “Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights” According to “Zimbabwean Lawyers for Human Rights”, more than 1,000 people have been tried for various human rights-related “crimes” in the last three years, some of them sentenced to long prison terms. “It’s exhausting to have to appear in court again and again,” said Zimbabwean human rights lawyer Doug Coltart, who has represented several activists in Harare in court in recent years Has.
More and more people classified as critical of the government
“Often there are onerous bail conditions and people are placed under house arrest. Their passports are taken from them, sometimes even their title deeds are taken away. That’s a way of punishing someone before they’ve even been convicted.”
The trials of Dangarembga and other activists are being conducted in Zimbabwe before the so-called Anti-Corruption Court. Established in 2018 as a branch of the Supreme Court, it aims to speed up the hearing of corruption cases and is the only one not to report to the Ministry of Justice but directly to the office of President Emmerson Mnangagwa. “It is really a farce that the trials are taking place before an anti-corruption court,” said attorney Coltart. “It seems that the rules are different in this court. Bails are denied more frequently and routinely.”
Massive restrictions on freedom
Zimbabwe’s constitution guarantees the right to peaceful demonstration, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, but the application of the law is different, according to Christopher Mhike: “The curtailment of freedoms in our system has a chilling effect on citizens’ ability to express themselves freely “Tsitsi Dangarembga’s lawyer told DW. “While the constitution speaks of freedom of speech in Zimbabwe, many have to wonder if there is freedom after speech.”
Dangarembga herself made a similar statement in an interview with DW last year: “There is a joke in Zimbabwe: There is freedom BEFORE expressing one’s opinion, but there is no freedom AFTER one’s expressing one’s opinion,” said the author, who was born in 1959. Still, she doesn’t want to turn her back on her country: “That’s life in Zimbabwe. I’m a Zimbabwean and I live in Zimbabwe. And that seems to be part of life in Zimbabwe.”
This article has been adapted from English.
Assistance: Annabelle Steffes-Halmer
Last updated: September 29, 2022