Zimbabwe: Conviction and sentencing of opposition leader is a travesty and adds to a growing crackdown on peaceful dissent
The conviction and sentencing of Job Sikhala, a member of parliament for the opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC), for obstructing justice, is a travesty and further evidence of an escalating crackdown on peaceful dissent and the right to freedom of expression ahead of the elections due later this year, Amnesty International said today.
The conviction and sentencing of Job Sikhala is a travesty of justiceFlavia Mwangovya, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East and Southern Africa
Job Sikhala was given a wholly suspended six months sentence with an option of paying US$ 600 or spending six months in jail. Job Sikhala’s trial was linked to a video posted on the internet in which he is accused of saying that the ruling Zanu-PF party had killed Moreblessing Ali, a CCC activist. Job Sikhala, who has been detained since June last year, denied making the video and an expert witness testified in court that the footage had been tampered with.
“The conviction and sentencing of Job Sikhala is a travesty of justice and a shocking demonstration of the growing crackdown on peaceful dissent, especially on opposition leaders and party members in Zimbabwe,” said Flavia Mwangovya, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East and Southern Africa.
“Job Sikhala’s conviction and sentencing, along with those of other critics of the government in recent weeks, including Fadzayi Mahere, who is also a member of the CCC, and Jacob Ngarivhume, a leader of Transform Zimbabwe, are part of a pattern of repression designed to victimize activists and opposition politicians, and suppress dissenting views ahead of general elections due later this year.”
There is a worrying restriction of civic space underway in Zimbabwe with growing attempts to persecute anyone who dares to freely express themselvesFlavia Mwangovya
“There is a worrying restriction of civic space underway in Zimbabwe with growing attempts to persecute anyone who dares to freely express themselves, especially those demanding transparency and accountability from the authorities.”
On 28 April, Jacob Ngarivhume was convicted and sentenced to 48 months in prison, with 12 months suspended, on charges of inciting violence simply for exercising his right to freedom of expression. He had been arrested, and later charged, after leading and organizing anti-corruption protests on 31 July, 2020.
On 5 April 2023, CCC national spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere was convicted and fined US$ 500 for “publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the state” for posting a video on Twitter alleging that a police officer had killed a baby, even though the law under which she was convicted does not exist.
Tsitsi Dangarembga, a Zimbabwean author and activist, and Julie Barnes were each convicted for “inciting violence” in 2022 and handed a six-month suspended sentence for participating in the 31 July 2020 protests.
Authorities are using the courts to silence members of the opposition who are demanding transparency, accountability and the respect and protection of human rightsFlavia Mwangovya
“Authorities are using the courts to silence members of the opposition who are demanding transparency, accountability and the respect and protection of human rights,” said Flavia Mwangovya.
“Authorities should stop muzzling and criminalizing opposition voices and trying to silence anyone demanding justice and respect for human rights, and instead allow people to freely exercise their right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.”
Job Sikhala was arrested on 14 June 2022 after attending the funeral of Moreblessing Ali, who was missing for three weeks before her mutilated body was discovered on 11 June 2022. Job Sikhala was arrested alongside fellow opposition legislator, Godfrey Sithole, and 14 other CCC activists, and has been held at Chikurubi Maximum-security prison in the capital Harare. Judgment had been expected on the 28 of April but was postponed to 3 May 2023.
However, following his conviction and sentencing on 3 May, Sikhala will remain in custody, even if he paid the fine, as he awaits trial for two other charges of incitement to commit violence and disorderly conduct.