Amnesty International: Sentencing of activists a ‘setback’ for freedom of expression

March 22, 2012 at 10:07 am Leave a comment

http://www.amnesty.org

“The court’s decision is a reminder that Zimbabwe is still an unsafe place
for activists”
Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International’s director for Africa

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.

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