Zimbabwe activists get community service for viewing Arab Spring videos


Munyaradzi Gwisai, a University of Zimbabwe lecturer and former member of parliament, and five other people were found guilty March 19, 2012, of conspiracy to incite public violence for last year watching videos of the Arab Spring uprisings.

JOHANNESBURG — A Harare court today sentenced six Zimbabwean activists to community service and a fine for watching video footage of last year's uprisings in Egypt.

The activists, including University of Zimbabwe lecturer Munyaradzi Gwisai, were convicted Monday of conspiracy to incite public violence for holding a meeting in which they viewed videos and discussed the Arab Spring uprisings.  

Gwisai, who is a former member of parliament for Morgan Tsvangirai's party, as well as Antoinette Choto, Tatenda Mombeyarara, Edson Chakuma, Hopewell Gumbo and Welcome Zimuto faced up to 10 years in prison.

A Harare magistrate today sentenced the "Zim 6" to two years in prison suspended for five years, a fine of $500 each, and 420 hours of community service.

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The group of six was arrested in February 2011 along with 39 other human rights activists, and accused of plotting to destabilize the government. They were initially charged with treason, which carries the death penalty, but the charges were later downgraded to inciting public violence.

They had been watching news footage of the uprising in Egypt, and holding a debate to discuss lessons for Africa from the Arab Spring, when police raided the meeting.

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch today called for all charges to be dropped against the six activists.

“In the Middle East people get arrested for taking part in peaceful protests, but in Zimbabwe they get sent to prison just for watching them on video,” deputy Africa director Leslie Lefkow said in a statement.

“The government should immediately set these outrageous convictions aside and exonerate all six," Lefkow said.

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