Tsitsi Dangarembga. Photo/China Hopson

Tsitsi Dangarembga was given a five-year suspended sentence and a fine at a Harare Court on September 29, 2022.

Tsitsi Dangarembga is the author of the Booker Prize longlisted novel This Mournable Body (2018) as well as others in the Tambudzai Trilogy series Nervous Conditions (1988) and The Book of Not (2006). In 2020 she was, alongside Julie Barnes, charged with participating in a public gathering with intent to incite public violence while breaking COVID-19 protocols, after they staged a protest in July 2020. That protest involved walking with placards calling for reforms in the country’s political system.

Tsitsi Dangarembga and Julie Barnes
Tsitsi Dangarembga and Julie Barnes in 2020

After two years of court, the verdict was handed out yesterday in Harare; 70,000 Zimbabwe dollars ($185) and a suspended sentence, provided they do not commit a similar offence in the future.

Responding to the conviction by magistrate Barbara Mateko, Dangarembga shared a statement which we share here in full;

STATEMENT

by Tsitsi Dangarembga and Julie Barnes

Dear Friends in Zimbabwe and everywhere in the world, dearest family and relatives, it is with heavy hearts that we bring you news of our conviction for the charge of “attending a meeting with intent to incite public violence, breach of the peace or acts of bigotry”, as a result of exercising our constitutional rights as Zimbabwean citizens to freedom of expression, and to demonstrate or protest or petition the government peacefully, which we did on 31 July 2020 by walking down Borrowdale Road displaying posters. The first poster called for a better life for Zimbabweans and institutional reform in our country. The second poster called for the release of those who had exposed corruption in government in the media, and others who had encouraged citizens to protest, who had been imprisoned without bail and without trial. Tsitsi Dangarembga carried these two posters. The third poster, Julie’s, also requested freedom for journalists who had been arrested and imprisoned without bail or trial, and also called for a better Zimbabwe for all.

Our hearts are heavy at this outcome, because this conviction could set the precedent that a Zimbabwean – indeed a person in Zimbabwe – is not free to walk down a road with another citizen displaying peaceful messages that convey their opinions on issues that affect them as people living in this country. We must no longer joke that there is freedom of expression in Zimbabwe, but no freedom after expression. We must take this conviction as a warning sign that our freedom peacefully to express what we want as Zimbabweans in public discourse is being stripped away from us. We are being intimidated into silence and inaction as repression and corruption increase, and the quality of our lives, our hopes for our children’s lives and our children’s confidence in their futures decreases. Freedom, justice and a dignified life are our right as Zimbabwean inhabitants of our planet. We urge you all to stand peacefully for freedom, justice and dignity in our country at all times. We promise you that we will always do the same. We intend to appeal.

God bless Zimbabwe, and God bless us all.

In their statement PEN International said, “PEN International is shocked by this news and strongly condemns the systematic misuse of the rule of law by the Zimbabwean authorities to harass, intimidate, and punish Dangarembga and Barnes, simply because they exercised their legitimate right to freedom of expression.” Read their full statement by clicking here.

The International Publishers Association has also sent out a statement with Kristenn Einarsson, Chair of the IPA’s Freedom to Publish Committee saying: “Tsitsi Dangarembga’s sentence is a twisted joke. Two people peacefully holding up placards calling for reform cannot be considered to be inciting public violence and breaching the peace. The sentence may well be suspended, but we fully support Tsitsi in her appeal. Failing to do so would be to condemn all Zimbabweans to silence.”