Dangarembga’s conviction a sign of Zim’s shrinking democratic space

Pen South Africa, a politically non-aligned organisation of writers, has condemned the conviction of renowned Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga saying it demonstrates the use of the law by President Emmerson Mnangagwa to punish anyone who speaks out against him.

Dangarembga and Julie Barnes were convicted of participating in a public gathering with the intent to incite public violence.

They were both fined ZWL$70 000 and also a six-month suspended jail sentence.  

“The decision is a demonstration of the declining state of human rights in Zimbabwe where President Emmerson Mnangagwa continues to demonstrate that he is following in the legacy of his predecessor Robert Mugabe in misusing the courts undermining the rule of law and harass, intimidate and punishing those who exercise their legitimate right to freedom of expression,” said the Board of PEN South Africa in a statement.

Dangarembga was the 2021 recipient of the PEN award for freedom of Expression for her ‘fearlessness in fighting against repression and speaking out about human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.’

“Her conviction for inciting public violence by a court in Zimbabwe comes with the threat of six months in jail, if she does not pay a fine of $70 000. Even if Dangarembga can pay the fine the condition of her release will be her silence,” noted the PEN Board of South Africa, adding that the literary organisation stands in solidarity with Dangarembga, whose work has defined a generation of writers.

“…and whose unflinching courage inspires all those who care about human rights and freedom.”

According to PEN South Africa, the conviction of Dangarembga and Barnes must be immediately and unconditionally overturned.

“PEN South Africa demands that the conviction of Dangarembga and Barnes is urgently and unconditionally rescinded by a higher court. Neither of them should have been arrested and prosecuted in the first place,” said the board.

“Dangarembga is an award-winning novelist, playwright and filmmaker who has endured a sustained campaign of harassment by authorities who have forced her to appear in court more than 30 times to face charges relating to a peaceful protest she staged during the Covid-19 pandemic. At the time the government had declared all protests a threat to public health,” said the literary organisation.

“Ms Dangarembga and her long-time collaborator Barnes were arrested for holding up signs protesting the government mistreatment of journalists and members of the opposition.”  

Dangarembga and Barnes were arrested in July 2020 but the two defendants were ultimately found guilty on September 29, 2022.

Their trial had been ongoing for more than two years prior to their release on bail.

Dangarembga had been holding a placard inscribed “We want better. Reform our institutions” during their peaceful march.

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