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AFRICA > Zimbabwe activists fined over Arab Spring debate

HARARE - Agence France-Presse

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Munyaradzi Gwisai.  REUTERS Photo

Munyaradzi Gwisai. REUTERS Photo

A Zimbabwean court on Wednesday fined six activists $500 each and ordered them to perform community service for having discussed the Arab Spring uprisings at a gathering.

The activists had been attending a meeting to talk about lessons from the sweeping Arab reform movement, but were accused of scheming to overthrow Zimbabwe's long-ruling President Robert Mugabe.

"Each accused is sentenced to pay a fine of $500 (380 euros) and if they default, they will spend 10 months in prison," Harare magistrate Kudakwashe Jarabini said as he handed down the sentence.

He also ordered the six to perform 420 hours of community service, failing which they would serve a 12-month suspended jail term.

The sentence came after the activists were convicted Monday of inciting public violence.

They were among 45 people arrested in February last year while watching a video of the protests that toppled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

They were initially charged with treason, a charge later changed to plotting mass protests.

Among the group was Munyaradzi Gwisai, a university lecturer and former lawmaker from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's party.

The prosecution had sought a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison or a $2,000 (1,500-euro) fine or both, saying the accused had shown no remorse.

Gwisai told journalists outside court that the struggle for freedoms in Zimbabwe must continue.

"The dictatorship is shaking, its not yet fallen and therefore the struggle must continue," he said.

 Gwisai's co-accused, Hopewell Gumbo, said the activists were arrested for questioning the "brutality" the people of Zimbabwe are experiencing everyday.

 "We have been on trial for questioning the legitimacy of the current dispensation in terms of running and leading this country," Gumbo said.

The activists' lawyer, Alec Muchadehama, said he would appeal.

"The accused persons are aggrieved by the sentence as well as the conviction," Muchadehama said, calling the trial a mockery of justice.

"The struggle will continue, this is a temporary reprieve. We are going to be back in the trenches."

Police arrested four student activists outside court who were celebrating the release of the group.

March/22/2012

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