Building vibrant and tolerant democracies
After mounting local and international outrage and pressure, the 'Egypt 6' were sentenced to a US$500 fine and 420 hours of community service - as well as two-year jail terms suspended for five years - after they were farcically convicted of conspiracy to commit public violence in violation of section 188 of Zimbabwe's Criminal Code - for watching videos of the Arab Spring.
The relatively lenient sentence was met with widespread relief since the activists could have received up to 10 years in jail - and that had certainly been the fear as hundreds of supporters gathered at the court in support and solidarity.
The concern stemmed from the politicised nature of the verdict and the extraordinary and sinister actions of the state prosecutor Edmore Nyazamba, who yesterday urged the magistrate to impose the maximum penalty before veering away from any pretence that he was following current Zimbabwean law by quoting the Bible as a basis to justify the harshest possible sentence. In yet another shocking indictment of Zimbabwe's judicial system, he was allowed to refer to Numbers 16 saying that in the old days, people who question authority would be stoned to death.
Or punished severely as in the case of 'a section of the Israelite society who questioned Moses' authority and Moses asked the Lord to punish them and they were set apart with all their belongings and the earth split open and swallowed them with all their belongings'.
And Nyazamba was not done there - going back to the Bible and referring to Romans 13 to the effect that 'Everyone must obey the state authority as it is ordained by God, because not authority exists without God's permission. Existing authorities have been put there by God, whoever opposes them opposes God's orders.'
Relying on these irrelevant references to the Bible, Nyazamba pleaded for the maximum penalty of 10 years in prison for all six accused saying that a revolt had been likely in Zimbabwe last February. He further asked for the six to be committed to custody pending sentencing but the magistrate refused so the six were allowed to spend at least one more night beyond bars.
Despite the non-custodial sentence, it is clear that the present case is highly political and was not decided on the basis of the law, but on political positioning - and on the desire by the ZANU-PF run state to strike fear in the hearts of pro-democracy activists ahead of elections.
Before the state prosecutor spoke, Alec Muchadehama, the lawyer for Munyaradzi Gwisai and five others, presented reasons for mitigation of sentence. He indicated that all six convicted activists, upon their arrest on 19 February 2011, were severely tortured by police while in custody and spent 27 days in prison before being granted bail on stringent conditions - adding that the matter has taken over a year to conclude. Muchadehama noted that the police who tortured the six activists have not been brought to book.
The convicted six know they have committed no crime - and their lawyer is not set to appeal both the verdict and the sentence.
This case is a direct message from a politicized and partisan justice system to civil society about ZANU-PFs intolerance of democracy, justice and freedom. But civil society defiantly rejecteded this message of fear - with over 100 civil society leaders and activists turning up at the court in support and solidarity. This political persecution of the six activists through prosecution is testimony to how compromised the judicial system has become.
Contrast this persecution of peaceful activists and academics with the murder of over 200 MDC supporters during the 2008 elections - and the fact that all their murderers are still at large, seemingly beyond the reach (or indeed even the interest) of the law.ShareThis