Zimbabwe author convicted over placard protest

Zimbabwean novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga (L) and a colleague Julie Barnes hold placards during an anti-corruption protest march along Borrowdale road, on July 31, 2020 in Harare
Tsitsi Dangarembga (left) and her friend Julie Barnes

Acclaimed Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga has been convicted of inciting violence by carrying a placard calling for political reform.

The magistrate said the protest could have incited other people to join, and cause a breach of peace.

Ms Dangarembga paid a fine of about $110 (£100) to avoid serving a three-month jail term.

She had pleaded not guilty in a trial that critics say is the latest sign of a government crackdown on dissent. Outside the court, she said, she was not surprised by the conviction.

“The space for freedom of expression and freedom of the media is shrinking and increasingly criminalised” in Zimbabwe, she said, adding that she intended to appeal against the judgement.

When President Emmerson Mnangagwa took power in 2017, he vowed to introduce reforms after the decades-long repressive rule of his predecessor, Robert Mugabe, however critics say little has changed.

Ms Dangarembga is one of Zimbabwe’s most famous authors. Her novel, This Mournable Body, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, in 2020. She was convicted along with a friend Julie Barnes.

The pair had walked along a road in the capital, Harare, two years ago, holding placards which called for political reform and the release of two government critics. The courtroom gasped and the two women stood motionless as the verdict was pronounced.

“Guilty of inciting public violence and breaching the peace,” came the judgement.

The magistrate said that as they protested on a public road, and pictures were shared on social media, others could have been provoked to protest. If they re-offend within the next five years they will be jailed for six months.

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