Last September, Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga was given a six-month “suspended” sentence and charged a fine for inciting violence in Zimbabwe. The High Court of Zimbabwe has recently overturned this conviction and acquitted Dangarembga of the charges.
The whole situation began back in August 2020 when Dangarembga and fellow activist Julie Barnes were arrested while they were protesting to ask the government to release investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, who was wrongfully arrested.
The Zimbabwean authorities had said that Dangarembga and Barnes had been arrested for inciting the public to violence, participating in illegal demonstrations, and spreading political messages to cause public unrest.
Dangarembga had pleaded not guilty in the trial and told the BBC, “The space for freedom of expression and freedom of the media is shrinking and increasingly criminalised.”
While she is happy to have been acquitted of the charges, Dangarembga has issued a statement on Twitter to share her thoughts.
Read Dangarembga’s powerful statement below.
Statement on the Occasion of the High Court Acquittal Following my September 29 2022 Conviction by the Harare Magistrates’ Court
Tsitsi Dangarembga, 8 May 2023
I am immensely grateful to my excellent lawyers, Harrison Nkomo and Chris Mhike for pursuing justice in the case in which I was arrested on 31 July 2020 while protesting peacefully on Borrowdale Road together with my colleague Julie Barnes, which arrest was followed by months of degrees of deprivation of freedom through bail conditions and court hearings, leading to conviction in the Harare Magistrates’ Court on September 29 2022 on charges of attending a meeting with intent to cause public violence, breach of the peace or acts of bigotry. In my view, this conviction was a blatant miscarriage of justice. The High Court ruling overturning the Magistrate Court verdict shows that justice was not served in the Magistrates’ Court. I am most encouraged that the High Court shows respect for the law of Zimbabwe as it is codified and I pray the High Court continues to serve the people of Zimbabwe by doing so.
At the same time, I am mindful that the modus operandi of the Harare Magistrates’ Court continues to appear be a practice of weaponisation of the law by the ZANU PF organisation that presides over Zimbabwean citizens, against those this ZANU PF organisation deems to be its opponents or threats to its apparent project of hi-jacking all political power in Zimbabwe.
There is the case of Job Sikhala. Sikhala has been incarcerated for approaching a year, for what to all intents and purposes appears to be pursuing justice in the case of the murder of a woman by ZANU PF connected agents. Sikhala was recently convicted for obstructing the course of justice, and he continues continues to be incarcerated with other charges still hanging over his head.
There is the case of Jacob Ngarivhume. Ngarivhume was incarcerated both before trial and after a conviction on charges of intent to cause public violence after calling for a demonstration against corruption, although he is on record in a tweet widely circulated on social media as insisting the demonstration must be peaceful. Meanwhile corruption is a practice that is ruining the lives, livelihoods and prospects of millions of Zimbabwean citizens.
There is the case of Fadzayi Mahere who was incarcerated pre-trial and was recently convicted of spreading false information as a result of retweeting a video in which a woman who held a limp baby in her arms grabbed a police officer by the scruff of their collar, while the crowd murmured that the policeman had killed the baby. While in Ngarivhume’s case a video circulated on social media is ignored, in Mahere’s case, a video circulated on social media is used to effect a conviction.
There is the case of Hopewell Chin’ono, incarcerated pretrial on a charge of spreading false information after being arrested for retweeting the video of the woman holding the limp baby with crowd murmuring the police officer had killed the baby. Chin’ono was also incarcerated pretrial for charges ostensibly arising out of his reporting on corruption in state circles, which state circles are presided over by the ZANU PF organisation.
There are many other such cases, for example those of Obert Masaraure, Takudzwa Ngdaziore, Namatai Kwekweza, to name just a few. I once more applaud the High Court of Zimbabwe for upholding the law of the land and I encourage all citizens to behave peacefully in ways that nevertheless make it clear to present presiding authorities in Zimbabwe that we, the citizens, will not tolerate undermining of Zimbabwean law, because to do so leads to national disarray and decay, and to the misery of citizens.
I conclude by expressing my deep gratitude to all the upright citizens of Zimbabwe who supported me throughout the ordeal imposed on me by the ZANU PF organisation. As upright citizens, we are the hope that a more just day will dawn for all in Zimbabwe. I am also immensely grateful to the many hundreds of people and colleagues throughout the world who likewise reached out to me in support. I would not have come through this ordeal so well without all these sources of strength.