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Zimbabwean Activists Plead for Leniency as Prosecutors Call for Maximum Sentence

The six were arrested in February last year during a meeting at which they watched video footage of mass uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia that toppled the presidents of the two countries

Zimbabwean activist Munyaradzi Gwisai and five colleagues convicted of conspiracy to commit public violence, pleaded for leniency Tuesday as prosecutors asked a Harare magistrate to impose the maximum 10-year jail sentence on the six.

Authorities said the group was plotting Egyptian-style uprisings to topple President Robert Mugabe’s government.

University of Zimbabwe lecturer Gwisai, 44, and social rights activists Antonater Choto, 36, Tatenda Mombeyarara, 29, Edson Chakuma, 38, Hopewell Gumbo, 32, and Welcome Zimuto, 25, were all convicted on Monday.

The six were arrested in February last year during a meeting at which they watched video footage of mass uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia that toppled the presidents of the two countries. The group expected to be sentenced Tuesday but the magistrate Kudakwashe Jarabini said he will do that Wednesday after listening to the defense team's mitigation.

Attorney Alec Muchadehama asked Jarabini to impose fines on the group because they were first offenders, but prosecutor Edmore Nyazamba asked for the maximum 10-year sentence.

Jarabini shot down an application by the state to have the group remanded in custody.

Muchadehama said the group watched the uprising videos as a way to kill time while waiting for invited guest speakers to their February 19 meeting.

Muchadehama said despite their conviction yesterday, it still remained unclear as to what exactly the six activists had done wrong at the meeting in question.

On a lighter note, prosecutor Nyazamba stunned the court saying the six would have faced death by stoning during ancient times.

Quoting the Bible, he likened President Mugabe to the biblical Moses saying those who disobeyed prophet Moses faced the most severe punishment.

"This case reminds me of that in the Bible whereby those who revolted against authority were swallowed up when the ground opened up,” Nyazamba said.
“Their families, including their cats and dogs, were not spared."

He said letting the six off with a fine or any other light sentence would be a mistake because “they will repeat the same offence and fine-tune the plan until their motive of toppling the government is fulfilled”.

Meanwhile, the MDC formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the break-away MDC99 and civic groups have condemned the activists' conviction saying it is an attempt by ZANU-PF to silence its critics ahead of possible polls.

The Tsvangirai MDC said the judgment is ”strange and barbaric” while MDC99 leader Job Sikhala said Zimbabweans should go onto the streets to protest against what he says was “a politically influenced decision that seeks to scare other political opposition parties into submission”.

The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, among other non governmental organizations, described the judgment as alarming, also urging Zimbabweans to unite and protest against the magistrate's decision to find the activists guilty.

Spokesman Douglas Mwonzora of the Tsvangirai MDC told VOA'S Blessing Zulu the case was nothing more than political persecution.

Acting director Dewa Mavhinga of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition described the conviction as shocking.

Meanwhile, a group of South Africans from different organizations protested at the Zimbabwe consulate in Johannesburg Tuesday demanding the state case against Gwisai and his colleagues be dropped altogether.

Protesters urged South Africa to intervene, warning this could be a test case ahead possible polls. They feared activists and voters could be targeted and intimidated into submission if the ruling is left to stand.