Zimbabwe: Author Tsitsi Dangarembga convicted for protesting alone

Harare, Zimbabwe

Award-winning Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga was found guilty by a court in the capital Harare on Thursday of organizing a protest aimed at inciting public violence.

Dangarembga, a fierce critic of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government, was arrested in 2020 for marching holding a placard calling for reforms.

He was charged with friend and colleague Julie Barnes he joined him in the protest.

The pair were sentenced to six months in prison and fined 70,000 zim dollars ($120).

Inside the Harare court, Dangarembga and Barnes held hands as Magistrate Barbara Mateko handed down the verdict.

“Considering the sequence of events, the footage presented to the court, the evidence of the journalists… the two and the accused have been found guilty of intending to incite violence.

A defiant Dangarembga told reporters after the verdict: “This means that the space for freedom of expression is shrinking and increasingly criminalized. However, we plan to appeal the verdict.”

Dangarembga, 63, has been a leading voice in condemning Zimbabwe’s rampant corruption and human rights abuses.

His book “This Mourable Body” was nominated for the Booker Prize in 2020.

The verdict has been widely condemned, with the Booker Prize committee saying it was “shocked” to learn of the conviction. In a Twitter post.

PEN International, the writers’ association, awarded Dangarembga the Pinter Prize in 2021, also condemning the sentence in a statement.

“Today’s conviction by a Zimbabwean court of award-winning writer, filmmaker and activist Tsitsi Dangarembga and her co-accused, Julie Barnes, is a travesty of justice. PEN International is shocked by this news and strongly condemns the Zimbabwean authorities’ use of the rule of law to harass, intimidate and punish Dangarembga and Barnes systematic misuse, simply because they exercised their legal right to freedom of expression,” the statement said.

Reporter Hopewell Chin’onoHe has also been a vocal critic of the ruling Zanu-PF party, calling the conviction “one of the biggest mistakes ever made by (President) Mnangagwa’s repressive regime, they may not care but they will regret it”.

Zimbabwean Human Rights Lawyers said it was sad by conviction.

CNN has reached out to the Zimbabwean government for comment.