Zimbabwe court convicts 6 activists

AP News
Posted: Mar 19, 2012 1:34 PM
Zimbabwe court convicts 6 activists

A Zimbabwe court ruled Monday that six civic activists were guilty of conspiring to commit public violence during a meeting in which they watched video footage of mass uprisings in Egypt that toppled its longtime ruler.

Harare magistrate Kudawashe Jarabini said he will sentence former opposition lawmaker Munyaradzi Gwisai and five others Tuesday. They face a fine or maximum prison sentence of up to ten years.

Original charges of treason carrying a possible death sentence were dropped in months of legal wrangling. The group was arrested last year for holding a meeting it said was an academic lecture on democratic rights.

Jarabini said Monday that watching a video was not a crime, but the "manner and motive" of the February 2011 meeting showed bad intent.

"It is an affront to common sense to say the meeting was innocent and academic," he said.

Showing footage of uprisings in both Tunisia and Egypt that included "nasty scenarios" was intended to arouse hostility toward Zimbabwe's government, Jarabini said.

Gwisai, the outspoken radical leader of an international socialist organization in Zimbabwe, told reporters he was not surprised by the verdict.

"It won't intimidate us. It will not deter us. I have no regrets. It's a staple of what's happening in Africa," he said.

In freeing the six on bail last year, a High Court judge described the case against them as weak and based on the evidence of one witness present at the meeting seen to have been an undercover police informer.

That court described as "bold and unsubstantiated allegations" police claims that the group planned to emulate the Egyptian revolt.

Gwisai and other members of the group complained at an earlier court hearing they were tortured by police and beaten with wooden planks and iron bars. They said they were also told to confess that they called for the ouster of longtime Zimbabwe ruler President Robert Mugabe, 88.

Mugabe has been in power since independence in 1980. Critics accuse him of violently suppressing his opponents and destroying the country's economy.

Though he entered in a power-sharing deal with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the country's longtime opposition leader after disputed, violence-plagued 2008 elections, Mugabe has said he has the power to unilaterally call elections this year to end the almost paralyzed coalition government.

Security authorities have said they will clamp down on any alleged plotters of "destabilization."