Recently, six political activists in Zimbabwe were convicted of conspiring to commit violence in an effort to overthrow the current government led by President Robert G. Mugabe, who has been in power for three decades. About 45 activists, students, and trade unionists were arrested last week, while attending a meeting convened by Munyaradzi Gwisai, a lecturer at the law school at the University of Zimbabwe and a former member of Parliament for Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, to discuss the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Prosecutors claimed that Gwisai and others were watching these news videos for purposes of planning a revolution. Lawyers for the accused argued the meeting was simply an academic discussion. The judge, on the other hand, did not buy the argument stating, “while watching videos of the Arab uprisings was not a crime, the organizers had intended to incite hostility toward the government by playing them.” With this judgment, the Zimbabwe court seems to be ensuring that Mugabe’s government remains in tact. However, given the country’s current instability, wouldn’t a conviction like this insight more unrest? Wouldn’t people simply view this as a conviction for merely watching “controversial” television?
The prosecutor asked for the maximum sentence – 10 years imprisonment. However, on March 20th, the six activists were each sentenced to 420 hours of community service as well as a $500 fine. The judge apparently wanted to take a “compassionate approach,” and did not want a harsh sentence to give a “sense of shock” to the people of Zimbabwe. Do you see this sentence as a sign that the current regime is backing down in the “face of mobilization?” Will citizens of Zimbabwe view this sentence as a sign that Mugabe’s government is changing? Or, is it possible that people will continue to be outraged, criticizing Mugabe’s regime of convicting academics for merely watching television?