Zimbabwe suspends sentence for anti-Mugabe activists

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 14, 2012 7:08 AM
Zimbabwe suspends sentence for anti-Mugabe activists

HARARE (Reuters) - A Zimbabwean court has suspended the community service sentence imposed on six activists convicted of airing 'Arab Spring' videos as part of a plot against President Robert Mugabe, their lawyer said on Saturday.

The move allows the six to appeal against their convictions and sentence.

The group, led by Munyaradzi Gwisai, a former opposition lawmaker in Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's party, was last month found guilty of "conspiracy to commit acts of public violence" against Mugabe.

They denied the charge and appealed, but a lower court said they should serve the sentence pending their appeal.

Lawyer Alec Muchadehama had argued in the High Court that the activists would be prejudiced if their appeal succeeded after they had already served their sentence.

"The judge agreed with us and suspended the sentence pending the hearing and conclusion of our appeal," said Muchadehama.

Prosecutors alleged Gwisai had aired videos of revolts last year against autocratic rulers in Egypt and Tunisia in order to incite an uprising against Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Defense lawyers said the meeting was merely an academic debate.

Prosecutors had demanded the maximum 10-year jail term, but a magistrate fined the six $500 each and ordered the group to perform 420 hours of community service.

Critics accuse Mugabe of using draconian security laws and tough policing to keep his grip on power after years of human rights abuses and economic mismanagement.

The veteran ruler was forced into a power-sharing government with Tsvangirai three years ago after a disputed election.

(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe, editing by Olivia Kumwenda and Janet Lawrence)