Zimbabwe’s High Court on Monday set aside the conviction and sentence of the human rights activist and opposition leader Jacob Ngarivhume, freeing him from the prison he entered in April.
On April 28, 2023, a magistrate court in Harare had sentenced Ngarivhume to four years in prison, with one year suspended. Authorities had charged him with inciting public violence for a 2020 video he had posted on X, formerly Twitter, calling for protests over the state of the economy and rampant corruption.
Ngarivhume’s lawyer told the media after the announcement of the decision that “the High Court agreed with us in every respect – that the Magistrate Court did not have a basis [for the conviction] at all. Jacob has had his eight months wasted.”
Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch spoke to lawyers, journalists, human rights activists, and opposition politicians who expressed concern that the authorities in Zimbabwe were increasingly misusing the law against critics of the government, denying those arrested the presumption of innocence and the right to bail.
They alleged that the authorities used the criminal justice system to target and degrade the government’s opponents through arbitrary arrests, detentions, and malicious prosecutions.
Another leading opposition figure and former member of Parliament, Job Sikhala, was arrested on June 14, 2022 and charged with incitement to commit public violence, disorderly conduct, and obstruction of justice. While the High Court in November found him not guilty of obstruction of justice, Sikhala remains incarcerated at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison on the other charges. Several of his applications for bail were denied.
According to those calling for his release, Sikhala’s prolonged detention – more than one year – and denial of bail as he awaits trial, “erodes the value and essence of the criminal justice system,” which is seen to be “weaponized against dissent.”
Many Zimbabweans remain fearful of intimidation by the country’s ruling party, ZANU-PF, and may not openly engage in political activities or otherwise freely express their political viewpoints. Adding to this concern is a judiciary that does not dispense justice in an impartial and non-partisan manner.
While Ngarivhume’s quashed conviction provides a glimmer of hope, Zimbabwe authorities should cease the systematic politically motivated arrests, detentions, and prosecutions of opposition politicians and supporters, civil society activists, and journalists. The government should also amend or repeal existing laws that restrict fundamental rights and freedoms in violation of international law.