Prominent Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangrembga has been given a suspended prison sentence after being found guilty of inciting violence by peacefully protesting for political reform.

Dangrembga and co-accused Julie Barnes were convicted in the Harare Magistrate’s Court on Thursday of participating in a public gathering with intent to incite public violence. The pair were also fined 70,000 Zimbabwe dollars (£200) each.

Both received a six-month jail sentence suspended for the next five years on condition that they do not commit the same offence.

In July 2020, Dangrembga was arrested for holding a placard reading “We want better”. Reform our institutions during peaceful protests. Human rights organizations including Amnesty and the writers’ union PEN International called for the charges to be dropped.

Pen quickly condemned the punishment Thursday and called on Zimbabwean authorities to “uphold their human rights obligations and refrain from persecuting dissenting voices”.

The magistrate, Barbara Mateko, said the state had proved that the two had demonstrated with the intention of inciting violence.

Laureate Dangrembga protested the court’s decision and said she would appeal to the High Court.

“We are in a situation where media freedom is not promoted and I and Julie, my co-accused, who want to promote media freedom, have been found to have committed a crime,” said Dangrembaga, who was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. in 2020, told reporters outside court.

“This means space for freedom of expression is shrinking and criminalization is increasing. However, we plan to appeal this sentence.”

She said freedom of expression is under attack in Zimbabwe.

“Our role as citizens is being changed to that of a subject rather than an active citizen. And as far as I know we are not a monarchy,” Dangrembga said.

The 63-year-old’s first novel, Nervous Condition, won the African category of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1989. In 2020, her book This Mornable Body was nominated for the Booker Prize.

Dangrembga’s arrest came amid a crackdown by security agencies on human rights campaigners, which included the arrest of investigative journalist Hopewell Chinono.

on Twitter, Chinono He described the decision against Dangrembaga as “one of the biggest mistakes ever made [president Emmerson] Mnangagwa’s oppressive regime, they don’t care, but they will regret it. It has thrown a massive global spotlight on Zimbabwe, which Zimbabwe needs.”

Dangarembaga is a fierce critic of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government, which has been accused of corruption and human rights abuses.

As Zimbabwe faces a crucial presidential election next year, there are growing fears that freedom of expression could be clamped down on.

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