Convicted over a peaceful placard protest, Zimbabwe’s renowned filmmaker and activist Tsitsi
Dangarembga has been treated like a common criminal for nothing other than exercising her
right to freedom of expression.
On Friday July 31, 2020, Dangarembga and her friend Julie Barnes walked down the streets
of Zimbabwean capital, Harare holding up placards that called for political reform in the country
and demanded better services. The duo were arrested and held overnight in police custody
with no formal charges laid against them. The next day, they were charged with inciting public
violence and violating Covid-19 regulations. They were eventually released on bail, followed
by a prolonged trial of over two years. On 29 September 2022, Dangarembga and Barnes
were handed a suspended six-month jail sentence and a fine of around US$120. According to
the Harare Magistrate, Dangarembga and her ally could have caused a breach of peace had
other people joined in their protest.
The conviction is a clear indication of the extent to which the Zimbabwean government will go
to crush dissent in the country. The right to a peaceful protest is protected under the
Zimbabwean constitution and in other international human rights instruments that the country
has ratified, but it would appear that citizens have these rights in name only as there are
serious consequences to be suffered for speaking out against the ruling party, Zanu-PF.
Quoted in an interview with the BBC, following her conviction, Dangarembga said, “The space
for freedom of expression and freedom of the media is shrinking and increasingly
criminalised”. She added that she will be appealing against the judgement.
The Campaign for Free Expression (CFE) is in full support of her decision. We demand justice
for Dangarembga and others like her who have fallen victim to a repressive state with no
citizens’ interests at heart. CFE stands firmly with Dangarembga and Barnes in support of their
freedom. The conviction of the duo at such a time is calculated to instil fear in citizens and
discourage any form of protest leading up to the elections. We call upon the African
Commission on Human and People’s Rights to intervene and stop the closing of civic space
in the country as it heads for elections in 2023. The Southern African Development Community
needs to stop playing ‘comradeship’ with the Zimbabwean government and call a spade a
spade. When citizens peacefully protest to demand better livelihoods and accountability from
government, it should not be a crime.
The Campaign for Free Expression (CFE) is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated
to protecting and expanding the right to free expression for ALL and enabling EVERYONE to
exercise this right to the full, whether it by speaking out, by protesting, by revealing information,
by blowing the whistle on wrong-doing, by arguing, debating, writing, painting, composing or
just by shouting out an opinion.
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