Zimbabwe’s award winning and renowned novelist, filmmaker and cultural activist Tsitsi Dangarembga and Julie Barnes, a pro-democracy campaigner have asked the High Court to set aside their conviction and sentence for allegedly promoting public violence after they were arrested two years ago for taking part in an anti-government protest. Dangarembga and Barnes were on 29 September 2022 convicted by Harare Magistrate Barbra Mateko and sentenced to pay ZWL70 000 each or three months imprisonment in default of the fine and in addition three months imprisonment wholly suspended for five years on condition that each of them does not commit any offence involving participating in a public gathering with intention to promote public violence, breach of peace or bigotry.
The duo, represented by Chris Mhike of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, had been on trial after they were arrested on 31 July 2020 and charged with participating in a public gathering with intention to promote public violence, breach of peace or bigotry as defined in Section 37(1)(b) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
During trial, prosecutors alleged that they participated in a demonstration in Borrowdale suburb in Harare while holding some placards inscribed “Free Hopewell, free Jacob #Zimbabwe”, “We want better reform our institution” and “Free our journalists”.
On Thursday 13 October 2022, Mhike filed a notice and an appeal against both conviction and sentence of Dangarembga and Barnes at the
High Court arguing that Magistrate Mateko fundamentally misdirected herself in finding the duo guilty in the absence of evidence linking them to participating in a public gathering with intention to promote public violence, breach of peace or bigotry.
Mhike argued that Magistrate Mateko grossly misdirected herself in abandoning the analysis on whether or not the words written on some placards which they were accused of holding during the 31 July 2020 anti-government protest, were obscene, threatening, abusive or insulting.
The human rights lawyer also argued that placing Barnes and Dangarembga on their defence after dismissing their application for discharge at the close of the prosecution case amounted to a gross
misdirection on the part of Magistrate Mateko because all three state witnesses had exonerated them of committing an offence as they had confirmed that the accused persons’ messages were not obscene, threatening, abusive or insulting.
Mhike accused Magistrate Mateko of exhibiting bias against the award winning novelist and pro-democracy campaigner by relying on some baseless speculation and conjecture regarding potential breach of peace through social media.
He also contended that the sentence imposed against Dangarembga and Barnes was disproportionate and induced a sense of shock.
He wants the High Court to allow Dangarembga and Barnes’s appeal and set aside the conviction and sentence of the two and pass a not guilty verdict.
Alternatively, Mhike said Dangarembga and Barnes should be cautioned and discharged.