Masarira spared jail in #ShutdownZim2016 trial

HARARE - A magistrate yesterday ruled that pro-democracy activist Linda Masarira  — convicted on charges of fanning public violence during the July 6, 2016 ‘‘stay away’’ protest movement led by church minister Evan Mawarire — must complete 385 hours of community service.

Masarira was initially sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment by Mbare magistrate Stanford Mambanje before seven months were suspended on condition of good behaviour.
The remaining 11 months were suspended on condition that she performs community service at Marlborough Clinic from today.

Masarira was convicted by magistrate Mambanje, who acquitted four of her co-accused human rights activists for shutting down most businesses, government offices, schools and hospitals in the biggest act of public defiance against 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe in a decade.
The protest annoyed Mugabe amid escalating economic and political crises in the southern African nation, with the nonagenarian alleging the protests were sponsored by foreign states.

Masarira — represented by Kudzayi Kadzere of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) — has been on trial since last year.
In convicting Masarira last Friday, magistrate Mambanje had labelled the pro-democracy campaigner “a notorious activist” and “a social media agitator”.

Yesterday, her lawyer urged the court to consider that his client had already served jail time during her 89-day incarceration in remand prison pending hearing of the case last year.
“I would want to reiterate that the now convicted person spent almost 90 days for a crime which, by the State’s admission, does not warrant incarceration. The conditions at remand prison and prison itself are not different and the pain accused person endured is the same,” Kadzere told the court.

The State had said she was a habitual offender and had tendered an “admission of guilt form” confirming that Masarira was convicted and paid a fine for criminal nuisance before.
However, Kadzere objected to tendering of the document saying it had been signed under duress after Masarira had been assaulted by the police.

“My client did not have an option. She had been brutally assaulted by members of the riot police and opted to pay a fine. The moment she got her freedom, she was immediately ferried to Avenues Clinic for treatment of injuries sustained during the assault,” Kadzere said.
“We are seeing a pattern where the accused person appears to be some form of a target. The medical reports prove that the admission of guilt was necessitated by the torture she had endured.”

The State’s contention is that Masarira’s stay at remand prison was necessitated by an outstanding warrant of arrest from a Mutare court which stopped Mambanje from giving her bail.
The protests she has been sentenced for were organised by Mawarire, who rallied followers under his #ThisFlag Twitter campaign, but insists his protests were peaceful and against government corruption, alleged police brutality, delays in paying state workers’ salaries and cash shortages.

Mawarire was arrested last month at the Harare International Airport on his surprise return to the country after spending six months in self-imposed exile, mostly in the United States.
He was subsequently charged with attempting to subvert Mugabe’s constitutionally elected government, public violence and insulting the national flag. He is currently on $300 bail.

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