After facing years of trial for attending an anti-government protest in her country in 2020, the acclaimed novelist has finally been acquitted. The Booker Prize nominee calls for justice for those mistreated by the law.
After years of court cases, author Tsitsi Dangarembga can finally walk away scot-free: On May 8, Zimbabwe’s High Court judges found the 64-year-old writer innocent of charges stemming back from a peaceful anti-government protest she staged in July 2020 with her friend, journalist Julie Barnes.
The protest criticized the government’s efforts to deal with corruption and a struggling economy. Beforehand, residents had been ordered to stay at home, and hundreds of police and soldiers were deployed to enforce the measures.
Dangarembga and Barnes carried posters demanding social reforms in the country and the release of imprisoned journalists. She was one of dozens of political activists arrested at the time and initially received a six-month suspended jail sentence and a fine.
The award-winning author was found guilty by a lower court in 2022 on charges of participating in a public gathering with intent to incite public violence while breaking COVID-19 protocols.
“We do intend to appeal against the conviction,” she said back in 2022. Our role as citizens is being turned into subjects, and we are not a monarchy.”
The 2022 verdict was overturned on Monday, as it was found to have been erroneously reached.
The decision came as a relief to the author and her legal team. “I can confirm that she has been acquitted. As her lawyers we are grateful because she had not committed any offence in the first place,” her lawyer, Harrison Nkomo, told Reuters.
In a statement published on Twitter, Dangarembga said that the initial conviction was a “blatant miscarriage of justice” and added that she was “encouraged” that the High Court of Zimbabwe “shows respect for the law as it was codified” and hopes it will continue to do so.
In the statement, she went on to say that the Harare Magistrate court that initially convicted her was “weaponizing” the law and using it against individuals that the ruling political party, ZANU PF, “deems to be its opponents or threats to its apparent project of hijacking all political power in Zimbabwe.” She then goes on to list examples.
To close her statement, the author thanked everyone who supported her during the ordeal and added her hopes for the future: “As upright citizens, we hope that a more just day will dawn for all in Zimbabwe.”
‘Space for freedom of expression is shrinking’
The outspoken author is fiercely critical of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government: “The space for freedom of expression is shrinking and extremely criminalized,” she said.
Zimbabwe has been in a deep economic and political crisis since the overthrow of the late longtime President Robert Mugabe and the subsequent takeover by his former deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa, in 2017. The ZANU PF party has been in power since the country’s independence in 1980.
In recent years, lengthy detentions and trials for Zimbabwean activists and government critics have been increasing.
More than 1,000 individuals are estimated to be facing trial for various human rights-related “crimes” in the last three years, according to Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.
The group has offered legal assistance to many of those activists.
Some individuals have been detained for months without trial, while others have to contend with long periods with strict bail conditions.
An author committed to social issues
Dangarembga made waves with her 1988 debut novel, “Nervous Conditions,” that revolved around topics including gender and colonialism.
In 2018, the BBC named it one of the top 100 books that have shaped the world.
As a filmmaker, Dangarembga also addresses social taboo subjects such as living with HIV/AIDS and violence against women in her works.
In 2021, Dangarembga won the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade.
Source: Deutsche Welle