Zimbabwe charges 46 with treason over protest videos

 

THE ZIMBABWEAN authorities have charged 46 activists with treason after they watched video footage of the recent demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia that toppled both countries’ long-standing leaders.

The group of civil rights activists were arrested by police last Saturday in Harare where they were attending a meeting arranged by the International Socialist Organisation (ISO) entitled “Revolt in Egypt and Tunisia: What lessons can be learnt by Zimbabwe and Africa?”

The 11 women and 34 men, who are predominately trade unionists, students and ISO members, first appeared in court in Harare on Wednesday where the state alleged they were trying to organise strategies they could implement to remove President Robert Mugabe’s long-standing regime. When police raided the meeting it has been alleged they found the group watching news clippings from the internet of the mass marches that took place in Egypt and Tunisia.

Police spokesperson James Sabau said videos of the protests were shown “to inspire and motivate people to demonstrate against the government”.

Since the popular uprisings in north Africa began at the beginning of the year the Zimbabwean authorities have tried to put in place a news blackout, but some Zimbabweans have kept informed using social network sites such as Twitter and online news services.

Marufu Mandevere, a lawyer for the group, told reporters on Wednesday the activists have denied allegations of plotting an uprising, and will argue they were only having an “academic debate”.

Yesterday defence lawyer Alec Muchadehama told the court that 12 of the accused claim they were tortured while in custody. Mr Muchadehama said the fact his clients were showing recordings of what happened during the popular uprising in Egypt and Tunisia was no grounds for a treason charge against them. Treason can be punishable by death if a guilty verdict is returned.

However, he said Mr Mugabe’s security forces were “so paranoid” about opposition to his rule that anything seen as a challenge to the 87-year-old was deemed treason and subversion.

Mr Mugabe has been Zimbabwe’s president since the country gained its independence in 1980. He has been accused of rigging numerous elections and of ordering his henchmen to commit widespread human rights violations to ensure he stays in power.

Although Mr Muagbe’s Zanu-PF party is involved in a powersharing deal with the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change party, the political rivals’ ability to work together in any meaningful way has faltered.