Prize-winning Zimbabwean novelist and filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga has been fined and given a six-month suspended jail sentence after a court found her guilty of “inciting public violence” during a 2020 anti-government protest.
Dangarembga was tried alongside her friend and fellow protester Julie Barnes, who was also found guilty on Thursday.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
The two were fined 70,000 Zimbabwean dollars ($193) and given a suspended sentence, which means they remain free provided they do not commit a similar offence in the next five years.
A vocal critic of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government, Dangarembga has been fighting for years against corruption and demanding reforms. She argued during the trial that Zimbabweans had the right to demonstrate.
“The two intended to incite violence and the accused are found guilty as charged,” Harare magistrate Barbara Mateko said.
Their lawyer Chris Mhike said the two women were first-time offenders and asked for leniency.
Outside court, 63-year-old Dangarembga said she was “not surprised” by the ruling.
“Our role as citizens is being changed into a role that is not an active citizen, but a subject, and we are not a monarchy,” she said, adding that she would appeal the conviction.
Dangarembga and Barnes were arrested at the end of July 2020 after they marched in the empty streets of Harare, holding a banner that read ‘We want better — reform our institutions’ before they were hauled into a police van. The novelist was freed on bail a day later.
Human rights lawyers said at the time that dozens of activists were arrested by security forces who had been sent to put down the protest. Rights lawyers also said there were cases of abductions and torture, which the government has denied.
Dangarembga told Al Jazeera shortly afterwards that the crackdown showed the right to peaceful protest had been “seriously eroded” in Zimbabwe.
“Zimbabwean citizens are expected to keep silent and docilely accept whatever the authorities decide to do, or face arrest for peacefully expressed differences of opinion,” she said.
Dangarembga won the African section of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1989 for her first novel, Nervous Conditions, the first book to be published in English by a Black woman from Zimbabwe.
She was nominated for the prestigious Booker Prize in 2020 for her book This Mournable Body. The two works are part of a trilogy that charts Zimbabwean politics through the eyes of Tambudzai Sigauke, known as Tambu, as she grows up. The second book in the series is The Book of Not, which was published in 2006.