On September 30, renown Zimbabwean novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga and fellow activist Julie Barnes were sentenced to six months in jail and a fine of around 120 USD for inciting violence.
Constitutional Lawyer Fadzayi Mahere explains that it is a suspended 6-month sentence, meaning that Dangarembga will not go to jail on the condition that she does not commit the same crime within the next 5 years, which suggests that Dangarembga is essentially being banned from protesting for five years.
PEN International issued a statement shortly after news of the conviction broke on Twitter, calling it “a mockery of justice.” The Wyndham-Campbell Prize said it was “an unjust verdict.” Legal practitioners are also baffled at the heavy-handedness of the verdict. All Dangarembga and Barnes did was hold placards saying “We want better reform in our institutions” and “Free our journalists. We want a better Zimbabwe for all.”
Dangarembga and Barnes were arrested on August 31, 2020 while they were protesting in the Borrowdale neighborhood. They were simply carrying placards asking that the government release investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, who was arrested after she had exposed an alleged million-dollar COVID-19 intervention scandal.
In a press statement released at the time, the police said that she and Barnes had been arrested for trying to incite the public to violence, for participating in illegal demonstrations, and carrying placards with political messages meant to cause public unrest. There does not seem to be much validity to this accusation from the photo below.
As PEN International remarks in their statement:
Demanding public accountability and governance reforms is not a crime. Non-violent protest and calling for an end to official corruption are not crimes. It is a bewildering mockery of rule of law for the Zimbabwe judicial authorities to convict its citizens just because they wanted better for their country.
The matter has been in court for two years, with Dangarembga making countless court appearances and, according to PEN, being subjected to “judicial harassment and intimidation.”
Through all this, Dangarembga has received the support of the literary community. South African author Zukiswa Wanner came from Kenya to be by her friend’s side. Dangarembga shared the photo pictured above on Twitter, writing: “My dear friend and fellow writer and arts developer Zukiswa Wanner and me at the court verdict this afternoon. She came all the way down from Kenya to give me support. Some people like Zukiswa are just huge souls.”