Zimbabwe: Drop Charges Against Writer Tsitsi Dangarembga

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RAPID ACTION NETWORK

RAN No. 06/20

4 August 2020

PEN International calls for the immediate dropping of all charges against Zimbabwean author and filmmaker, Tsitsi Dangarembga. PEN has received reports that Dangarembga was peacefully protesting corruption on Friday July 31, 2020 in Harare when she was arrested by members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police with neither warrant nor explanation. She was held overnight at the Borrowdale Police Station after which she was arraigned in court and released on cash bail of ZW 5,000 on August 1, 2020. She was further ordered to surrender her passport and report to the police every week. Her next court appearance is on September 18, 2020.

“In a bizarre turn of events that could be part of a surreal novel, Tsitsi Dangarembga was arrested for peacefully expressing her opinion over rising corruption in Zimbabwe, and then released as if the government was being magnanimous. She was arrested because she said on social media: Friends, here is a principle. If you want your suffering to end, you have to act. Action comes from hope. This the principle of faith and action – which the government confused for ‘insurrection.’ Zimbabwe’s authorities need to get not only their semantics but also their understanding of human rights and free expression right. They must drop all charges against Dangarembga, longlisted for the Booker Prize this year, and against all others protesting peacefully against the government. As writers around the world, we urge the authorities to act as per the law and the constitution and respect rights, so that Dangarembga, Zimbabwe’s national treasure, can continue doing what she too would rather prefer to do – tell us stories so that we understand our world better,” said Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

TAKE ACTION

Please send appeals to the authorities of the Republic of Zimbabwe urging them to:

  • Immediately drop all charges against Tsitsi Dangarembga and all those protesting peacefully against the government;
  • Stop the ongoing judicial harassment of writers, journalists and other dissenting voices in Zimbabwe;
  • Respect Zimbabwe’s constitutional guarantees on freedom of expression and desist from arbitrary use of constitutional limitation clauses to silence public dissent and expression of dissatisfaction with the government; and
  • Comply with their obligations under international human rights law and standards on protection of the right to freedom of expression and the rights to association and assembly.

Send your appeals to:

Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, President of The Republic of Zimbabwe

Email: info@opc.gov.zw

Tel: +263 24 270 7091/7

Twitter: @edmnangagwa

Ziyambi Ziyambi, Minister of Justice, Legal and Constitutional Affairs

Email: justice@justice.gov.zw

Tel: +263 24 774 620/7

Twitter: @ZiyambiZ

Paul Themba Nyati, Zimbabwe Republic Police Spokesperson & Assistant Commissioner

Tel: +263 716 800 107

Twitter: @PoliceZimbabwe

Please inform PEN International of any action you take and any responses you receive.

*** Please send appeals immediately ***

Publicity

PEN members are encouraged to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the case of Tsitsi Dangarembga and the state of freedom of expression in Zimbabwe;
  • Share information about Tsitsi Dangarembga and your urgent appeal action on your social media platforms;
  • Please inform PEN International of any action you take and of any responses you receive.

BACKGROUND

Tsitsi Dangarembga is an award-winning Zimbabwean novelist and filmmaker. Her novel, This Mournful Body was recently longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize. Since the arrest of award-winning journalist Hopewell Chinono two weeks ago, Tsitsi Dangarembga had expressed fear of arrest on social media. On July 31, 2020, she was peacefully protesting corruption when plainclothes police officers arrested her without stating the charge. Subsequently, she was detained overnight at the Borrowdale Police Station in the capital Harare.

The following day, Saturday August 1, 2020 she was arraigned in court where she was charged with incitement to commit violence and breaching anti-coronavirus health regulations. She was released on bail and ordered to attend court on September 18, 2020. She was ordered to surrender her passport to the authorities and to report to a police station every week until her next appearance in court.

Freedom of Expression in Zimbabwe

Tsitsi Dangarembga’s arrest and prosecution are part of a coordinated crackdown by the Zimbabwe authorities on those speaking out against alleged cases of high-level corruption in which government and state officials are suspected of culpability. In recent weeks, several journalists, peaceful protest organizers and participants in planned peaceful protests have been arrested, detained and charged in court.

The Zimbabwe Constitution expressly guarantees the right to freedom of expression, which includes the freedom to protest government failure to act in the public interest. However, retention of restrictive laws undermines Zimbabwe’s constitutional guarantees in practice. Tsitsi Dangarembga, as were many others, was arrested for expressing support and participating in the planned and peaceful anti-corruption public protests on July 31, 2020. Like her compatriots arrested for the same reasons, she was charged with inciting public violence and violating covid19 control regulation in what is becoming a trend of arbitrary application of the law by the authorities to criminalize free speech and expression.

Although during his inauguration as President of Zimbabwe Emmerson Mnangagwa pledged to reinforce the pillars of democracy, in reality, freedom of expression continues to be under attack under his administration. Journalists and other dissenting voices are frequent victims of intimidation and assault by security agencies and political operatives; arbitrary arrest and detention and judicial harassment. It is also common for individuals to be arrested for critical posts on social media.

For more information please contact Nduko o’Matigere, Africa Programme Coordinator at PEN International on e-mail Nduko.oMatigere@pen-international.org

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