Zimbabwe: Conviction of Tsitsi Dangarembga a mockery of justice

Tsitsi Dangarembga

The conviction today of award-winning writer, filmmaker, and activist Tsitsi Dangarembga and her co-accused, Julie Barnes, by a Zimbabwe Court is a travesty of justice. PEN International is shocked by this news and strongly condemns the systematic misuse of the rule of law by the Zimbabwean authorities to harass, intimidate, and punish Dangarembga and Barnes, simply because they exercised their legitimate right to freedom of expression. The Zimbabwean authorities know that they were not inciting public violence when they were arrested by riot police officers on 31 July 2020 while non-violently demonstrating on a deserted street in Harare. They were exercising their right to protest and free speech, both of which are protected by the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

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. Tsitsi Dangarembga and Julie Barnes should be celebrated as model citizens, not condemned as criminals following a sham trial on trumped up charges of promoting public violence. We called for and expected their unconditional acquittal today, after more than two years of judicial harassment and intimidation. PEN International will continue campaigning for an end to the persecution of Tsitsi Dangarembga and Julie Barnes. Their conviction should be quashed in its entirety, and their freedom restored unconditionally.

Today, 29 September 2022, a Zimbabwe Magistrates Court in the capital, Harare, reportedly sentenced internationally renowned award-winning author, filmmaker, and activist, Tsitsi Dangarembga and her co-defendant, Julie Barnes, to six months and a fine of around 120 USD.

Their conviction follows a long-running period of legal and judicial persecution that the two have endured since 1 August 2020 when they were arraigned in court on the frivolous charges of ‘incitement to public violence’ and ‘breaching COVID 19 health regulations’. This is after they were arrested without charge or explanation on 31 July 2020 while peacefully protesting corruption on a deserted street in Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe. PEN International has condemned their arrest and prosecution as emblematic of the systemic misuse of rule of law by the Zimbabwean authorities to punish critical voices.

PEN International condemns the conviction, yet another sad illustration of the lengths the Zimbabwean authorities are determined to go to punish critics of government conduct. Misuse of the administration of justice systems in attempts to supress free speech violates Zimbabwe’s Constitution and international human rights obligations.

We reiterate our earlier calls for the Zimbabwe authorities to uphold their national and international human rights obligations and to desist from all acts of persecution against dissenting voices such as Tsitsi Dangarembga and Julie Barnes.

PEN International demands that the malicious and unjustified conviction of Tsitsi Dangarembga and Julie Barnes is urgently and unconditionally rescinded by a higher court. Tsitsi Dangarembga and Julie Barnes should not have been arrested and prosecuted in the first place. Their conviction is rooted in a series of violations of their human rights and freedoms to hold and express critical views. It is horrifying that the Magistrate’s Court in Zimbabwe approved the violations with an unjustified conviction.

For more information about Tsitsi Dangarembga’s persecution since her arrest on 31 July 2020, read here and here.

For further information, please contact Nduko o’Matigere, Africa Regional Coordinator at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK – email nduko.omatigere@pen-international.org

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