20 March 2012- Six Zimbabweans currently in London as Commonwealth Professional Fellows (CPF) hosted by the Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) are appalled by the groundless conviction of six social justice and human rights activists on 19 March 2012. One of those convicted was Tafadzwa Antonater Choto, who was awarded a Commonwealth Professional Fellowship in 2011 (CPF) but unable to take it up as she was arrested and her passport confiscated for allegedly watching video footage of the Arab Spring protests at an academic meeting convened in Harare.

Harare Regional Magistrate Kudakwashe Jarabini on Monday 19 March convicted Munyaradzi Gwisai, anti-debt campaigner Hopewell Gumbo, Choto the director of the Zimbabwe Labour Centre, student leader Welcome Zimuto, and social activists Eddson Chakuma and Tatenda Mombeyarara of violating section 188 as read with section 36 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act for allegedly conspiring to commit public violence.

The six activists were among 45 people arrested on the 19th of February in 2011, during an academic meeting where a video footage on the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt was shown. Police claimed then that the group was plotting to destabilise the government when they watched video footage of the Egypt uprising. Initially when the activists were arrested, police accused the group of treason but downgraded the charges to inciting public violence. The remaining six now await sentence, which according to their lawyers could be a fine or imprisonment for a period of six to ten years or both.

This is a clear case of political persecution of innocent human rights defenders meant to deprive society of the opportunity to learn the truth about alternative democratic processes that have proved to be popular on the African and Arabic continent. The convictions are a clear sign that the state is adamant on denying the people of Zimbabwe their democratic and constitutional rights of freedom of movement, expression and gathering.

Director of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, McDonald Lewanika,, also a Commonwealth Professional Fellow, stated that, "The trial was a deeply flawed show trial meant to strike fear in the hearts and minds of bonafide Human Rights Defenders, who have been executing legitimate work in Zimbabwe to promote democracy, good governance and above all conscientising Zimbabweans of their constitutionally guaranteed rights. €

Lewanika added that, "From the beginning, the arrest, and the torture meted on the activists and their trial had all the hallmarks of political persecution meant to clampdown on dissenting voices. €

"Such medieval actions blemishes Zimbabwe as the only country which penalizes its citizens for merely watching television and discussing world trends and events, € said Kumbirai Mafunda, one of the Commonwealth Fellows, who is also a media and human rights campaigner.

With its disrespect of basic human rights and democratic standards, the government of Zimbabwe is increasingly isolating its Government and worst of all, its people from the rest of the world. This is clearly part of the reason why Zimbabwean authorities elected to opt out of the Commonwealth so as to escape censure and scrutiny from their peers in light of Commonwealth values which uphold democracy, human rights, rule of law, and independence of the judiciary amongst others.

The contemptuous conduct of the police, who arrested and severely tortured the activists while in police custody to the flawed evidence relied upon by the State in court right through to the malevolent conviction and sentence portrays a government that is suffering from persecutory delusional disorder, which is typical of paranoid States. The evidence put before the court by the State is flimsy, biased and shrouded in innuendo and paranoia. If the six are convicted it will mean that the security apparatus in Zimbabwe will have unlimited powers to send innocent people to prison for for watching video material that was in the public domain and can still be accessed by anyone from anywhere in the world.

Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, the Director of the RCS also added that,

"A lot of Commonwealth organisations are disturbed by this development. Many of us are working towards the eventual return of Zimbabwe to the Commonwealth of Nations are worried about the signal the conviction and sentencing of Tafadzwa and her colleagues sends about the Government of Zimbabwe's commitment to Commonwealth principles and values. The RCS sympathises with the families of the six activists, and the brave lawyers who defended them. €

Lastly we call on activists around the globe to stand against this injustice and in defence of these six activists.

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