Yesterday the 6 Zimbabwean activists (including our friend, Eddson Chakuma) arrested last February for watching videos of the Arab Spring were found guilty of conspiracy to incite public violence (a step down from the original charge of treason). Today they were sentenced to 240 hours of community service, charged a $500 fine and given a 2 year suspended custodial sentence. Basically this means that they are on probation for 24 months (12 months to ensure they complete their community service and 12 to ensure that they do not commit a similar "crime").
We are lucky that Nyazamba (the prosecutor in this trial) did not get his way. Yesterday in court he claimed that the 6 would have faced death by stoning in ancient times, citing the bible. He said that those who disobeyed Moses face the most sever punishment and said "this case reminds me of that story in the bible whereby those who revolt against authority are swallowed up by the earth.
Despite the relatively lenient sentence - no doubt better than old testament stoning or the alternative 10 years in prison - this conviction and sentence are an affront to justice. Amnesty International representatives say that the decision to convict and sentence these activists for simply organizing a video screening is a setback fro freedom and expression in Zimbabwe.
The evidence against the Zim 6 throughout the trial as sparse and unreliable and the ongoing nature of the trial in spite of this suggests someone higher up is pulling the strings. This was clearly a political conviction.
Their lawyer has filed an appeal for both the conviction and sentence with the provincial court and if the court does not show them favour they plan to take it to the High Court.
For more information about this trial visit Human Rights Watch or our other blogs about Eddson and the trial (to your right).