Zimbabwe prosecutors are appealing the sentence meted out last week to rights activist Munyaradzi Gwisai and his five colleagues on charges of conspiring to commit public violence, Egypt-style, allegedly to topple President Robert Mugabe's government.
The six were fined $500 each and ordered to perform 420 hours of community service. But responding Thursday to an application filed by defense attorney Alec Muchadehama asking the court to allow to six not to perform community service until their appeal is heard in the high court, prosecutor Edmore Nyazamba said the state now intends to appeal the "linient" sentence passed by magistrate Kudakwashe Jarabhini.
Nyazamba said the sentence was “too light”, considering the offense the activists were convicted of.
Gwisai and his activist colleagues, Hopewell Gumbo, Antonaetar Choto, Tatenda Mombeyarara, Edson Chakuma and Welcome Zimuto, could have been sent to prison for a maximum jail term of not more than ten years.
In his application, Muchadehama said the activists should not perform community service before their appeal is heard in the high court against both conviction and sentence.
He argued that his clients have high chances of success in their appeal. Muchadehama added that they were not flight risks.
"The charge sheet did not clearly spell out which subsections of paragraphs of Section 188 and 36 the appellants contravened and for which the magistrate found them guilty as charged," Muchadehama submitted.
"Section 188 of the Act is unconstitutional and cannot reasonably be expected in a democratic society. It is in contravention of the Declaration of Rights in the Constitution."
The group argues that the court erred in relying on the evidence of a detective they are saying was dishonest and had lied about his identity.
They also argued that videos of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings they watched on the day last year were shown to kill time, adding the magistrate erred in finding they were shown to arouse feelings of hostility.
"The emphasis on the video by the magistrate was therefore totally misplaced and untoward hence the submission that the court was taking a subjective view of the facts and had descended into the arena."
Magistrate Jarabhini said he would deliver his ruling on whether to suspend community service or not Friday. The activists have already paid the fine as outlined by the court.
Gwisai and his co-accused were arrested in February last year together with 40 others at a meeting convened by Gwisai’s employer, the International Socialist Organization, where they watched news footage of uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Initially they were charged with treason before the charge was altered. Charges against the other 40 were dropped.
During trial, the group argued they watched the videos with to see what lessons the working class in Zimbabwe could draw from the uprisings, adding they never intended to use them to mobilize hostility against Mr. Mugabe and his government.