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Zimbabwe opposition figure convicted of inciting violence, faces up to 10 years in jail

Zimbabwean opposition figure Job Sikhala waves as he arrives at the magistrates courts in Harare, Wednesday, Jan, 24. 2024.   -  
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Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP


Prominent Zimbabwean opposition figure Job Sikhala was convicted of inciting public violence on Wednesday (Jan.24) in Harare. Sikhala faces up to 10 years imprisonment.

Police accused the former MP of encouraging supporters to violently react to the death of opposition activist Moreblessing Ali.

Sikhala had denied the charges, arguing that he was simply acting as the family lawyer in their quest to find Ali, who was considered missing before her dismembered body parts were later discovered in a well.

Sikhala, 52, also denied organizing transport for party supporters to cause revenge violence.

He also denied posting a video on social media in which he is heard urging public “to use whichever way available” to revenge Ali’s killing.

Police later arrested a man who was subsequently sentenced to 30 yeas in jail for the killing. The ruling ZANU-PF rejected he was a party official.

Magistrate Tafadzwa Miti said although Sikhala may not have posted the video on social media, evidence showed that it was the politician speaking in the video and he was responsible for the ensuing violence.

On Wednesday, Sikhala's lawyer detailed the judgement: "Magistrate Miti has convicted both Job Sikhala and Honorable Godfrey Sithole with incitement to commit public violence. The matter was rolled over to Monday 29th for the purpose of dealing with issues regarding the mitigation," Harisson Nkomo said.

Sikhala had denied the charges, arguing that he was acting as the lawyer of Moreblessing Ali's family.

Since his arrest, he has spent 600 days, almost 2 years, in prison without bail.

“The human rights situation in this country is extremely worrying. And it appears to be deteriorating - the use of pre-trial incarceration, as we have seen with Job Sikhala. The cases of, of abduction and torture, even though some of those who are here in court,” Douglas Coltart who is part of Job Sikhala’s legal team said.

Lawyers for Sikhala and opposition MP Sithole will plead for leniency on January 29th.

Up to 10 years in prison

Both men face up to 10 years imprisonment or a fine.

Tensions filled the courthouse in the capital, Harare. Dozens of people who couldn’t fit into the tiny courtroom milled in the corridors.

Outside, anti-riot police dispersed a group of activists protesting the detention of Sikhala, a man now seen by many as the face of resistance to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s alleged repression.

The small group of protesters sang songs depicting Sikhala, a fiery speaker, as a “hero.” Some supporters vented in anger while others prayed after the verdict. Police in anti-riot gear kept a presence both inside and outside the court.

Global and local human rights groups such as Amnesty International say Sikhala’s situation underlines continued repression of the opposition and other government critics such as university students and labor unionists in the Southern Africa country, where hopes that a coup in 2017 could mark a turning point have vastly diminished.

Sikhala has been arrested more than 65 times in the past 20 years, but his lawyers say no conviction had stuck on each of the cases before Wednesday’s verdict.

The High Court in Harare in December overturned a magistrate’s verdict in May to convict and fine Sikhala $600 for a separate charge of obstructing the course of justice after Sikhala accused ruling ZANU-PF supporters of killing Ali.

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