By Columbus Mavhunga
Zimbabwe’s main opposition party says the government is again cracking down on critics with a prison sentence given to 28-year-old Makomborero Haruzivishe. A court found him guilty of inciting violence, but rights groups say the real aim is to intimidate protesters demanding more financial support for the poor.
That’s Makomborero Haruzivishe shouting at waiting reporters as he left for Chikurubi Maximum Prison — his new home for the next 14 months after he was sentenced to prison on Tuesday.
Authorities say the 28-year-old blew a whistle to alert opposition protesters to pounce on police during a protest in February last year.
Kossam Ncube of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, who represented Haruzivishe during his trial, says only circumstantial evidence was used to convict him of inciting violence and resisting arrest.
“We do not agree with the decision of the court because we believe the facts upon which the court relied to arrive at the decision to convict could not support that decision. Therefore, it was a serious misdirection on the part of the court to convict him of those offenses. And we are definitely going to take it up on appeal, because the decision of the court cannot be sustained legally,” Ncube said.
His arrest after months on the run, follows an accusation that he incited violence in a protest demanding the government provide more support to poor Zimbabweans.
Tendai Biti, vice president of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change Alliance, reacted to Haruzivishe’s conviction in an interview with VOA.
“This is a sad for Zimbabwe. It reflects the selective application of the law in Zimbabwe. It confirms the complete emasculation of state institutions for Zimbabwe. The conviction and heavy sentence (are) meant to send out a chilling effect to the democratic movement in Zimbabwe,” Biti said.
Zimbabwe’s government says the conviction of Haruzivishe — who has taken part in many anti-government protests — was legitimate and legal.
Ndavaningi Nick Mangwana, Zimbabwe’s Information Ministry Secretary, spoke to VOA after the ruling.
“He was convicted of inciting public violence, and he did make those statements which were inciting violence. So, it’s straightforward; you incite violence. Is it a criminal offense in our statutes? It is. Was there evidence against him? The court determined that there was evidence against him, and that determines a conviction. Was the conviction within the parameters of a fair sentence for such a crime? I believe it was if the magistrate said it be so. Let’s talk a little bit about this incitement of violence. Do you know that a whole president of the United States (Donald Trump) was impeached for that reason? A whole president,” Mangwana said.
Haruziveshe faces other charges related to organizing protests during the country’s COVID-19 lockdown and an accusation of kidnapping. He only shook his head after Magistrate Judith Taruvinga read her ruling. Haruziveshe posted on Twitter, “I am ready for prison. I refuse to be broken by a cabal of thieves and murderers. They stole the future from millions of Zimbabweans — a criminal cult that betrayed their comrades who died in the struggle for Independence. This, for me is a sabbatical. I will be back!”