A magistrate in Zimbabwe convicted six socialists of “inciting public violence” on Monday.
The six had watched a video of news footage from the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.
Some 160 supporters in the public gallery showed their outrage. Riot police were positioned outside to control hundreds more demonstrating there.
The verdict shocked protesters as the state’s case had looked as if it was collapsing due to lack of evidence.
One of the defendants, Munyaradzi Gwisai, said after the verdict, “The judiciary is being used by the regime to persecute and intimidate the opposition and civic society, to keep them confined by court cases that drag on, even if there is no case against them.”
Munyaradzi is general coordinator of the International Socialist Organisation (ISO), the Socialist Workers Party’s sister organisation in Zimbabwe.
His five co-defendants are leading ISO activists Tafadzwa Choto and Tatenda Mombeyarara, trade unionist Edison Chakuma, debt rights activist Hopewell Gumbo and student leader Welcome Zimuto.
The six plan to appeal—and activists around the world are stepping up the campaign for justice. Protests took place on Tuesday including in London, New York, Johannesburg and Melbourne.
Munyaradzi told the court the charges were “outright silly”, and that this was “a case of political harassment by the state”.
The prosecution’s star witness was a spy in the meeting. He said under oath that he was Jonathan Shoko, a police officer attached to the Criminal Investigation Unit.
The defence exposed him as Rodwell Chitiyo from the secret police, the dreaded Central Intelligence Organisation.
The defence said that the case should be dismissed as there was no evidence to answer. But the magistrate went ahead.
And the prosecution went on to submit an inflammatory statement, which said, “The uprising had gone beyond the planning stage. The date had been set.”
In the run-up to the verdict Zimbabwe’s head of police, Augustine Chihuri. He repeated the allegations, adding, “The warped and polluted agenda is to try and overthrow the government.”
The six were awaiting sentence as Socialist Worker went to press. Each could face ten years in prison or a fine of 2,000 US dollars (£1,262).
This is part of a clampdown by the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe, terrified that the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa could spread south.
Defendants were tortured in detention
Police stormed a meeting organised by the International Socialist Organisation (ISO) in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare on 19 February last year.
The meeting was to discuss the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia and commemorate the death of Navigator Mungoni, an Aids activist and ISO member.
Forty-five people arrested at the meeting were held in prison, tortured and initially charged with treason—which carries the death penalty.
Defendant Hopewell Gumbo said, “We were subjected to heavy physical beatings from which I suffered a broken nose.
“Others had various injuries depending on the instrument used and part of the body assaulted.”
All were prevented from receiving prescription drugs and medical attention—including those who are HIV positive.
One detainee, David Mpatsi, later died after this treatment.
The majority were released without charge. The trial of the remaining six has continued ever since. The defendants have filed a lawsuit against the police and Zimbabwe’s two home affairs ministers for their torture.
Send money to support the defendants to ISO Zim Solidarity, Unity Bank, Birmingham, account number 20136938, sort code 08‑60‑01, IBAN: GB11 CPBK 0800 5150 0732 10
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