The Conviction and Sentencing of Jacob Ngarivhume: A Strong Condemnation Of Zimbabwe’s Democratic System
Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SouthernDefenders) strongly condemns the recent conviction of opposition leader Jacob Ngarivhume, who was sentenced to four years in prison for calling for anti-corruption protests. Ngarivhume’s conviction comes a few days after SouthernDefenders launched the report, “Justice delayed is justice denied“: Persecution by the prosecution in the case of Zimbabwe’s opposition Member of Parliament Job Sikhala, which highlights ongoing political persecution in Zimbabwe, through the use of the legal system to target opposition leaders and human rights defenders. SouthernDefenders urges the authorities in Zimbabwe to exercise self-restraint, respect the 2013 constitution, unconditionally release all political prisoners and desist from weaponizing the law (lawfare) to target voices of dissent including democracy activists and human rights defenders.
We strongly denounce the blatant violation of Mr Ngarivhume’s fundamental rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association. His peaceful call for citizens to demand accountability from their government was not a crime but a legitimate exercise of his constitutional rights. Section 59 of Zimbabwe’s Constitution clearly provides that everyone has the right to peacefully demonstrate and present petitions. Southern Defenders is gravely concerned that the charges against him were politically motivated, baseless and lacked the necessary evidence to support the allegations of incitement to violence. The State’s prosecution, conviction and sentencing to prison of Ngarivhume, not only violates his basic human rights but undermines the rule of law the core foundation of a democratic society in Zimbabwe.
Ngarivhume’s conviction, which is not in isolation, further emphasizes the ongoing crackdown on dissenting voices in Zimbabwe. Renowned author Tsitsi Dangarembga and co-accused Julie Barnes were also recently convicted of incitement to violence for staging what was clearly a peaceful protest calling for political reforms. Southern Defenders is concerned that the misuse of the criminal justice system to target citizens exercising their constitutional rights sets a dangerous precedent, sending a message to others who might dare to speak out against the government legitimately.
“Human rights defenders particularly democracy activists are the backbone of any democratic society. These individuals play a vital role in promoting democracy, accountability, and respect for human rights, and the State has an obligation to create a conducive environment for their engagement” said Professor Adriano Nuvunga, Chairperson of SouthernDefenders. “Jailing someone for calling for peaceful anti-corruption protests, especially in the current firestorm of the “gold mafia” documentary which exposed industrial-scale looting of mineral resources in Zimbabwe, is reflective of a government that has zero intention of addressing corruption but is instead determined to silence those striving to hold it accountable”: added Nuvunga.
SouthernDefenders urge the Zimbabwean authorities to take immediate action to protect the rights and freedoms of all citizens, including human rights defenders, journalists, and democracy activists. The authorities must refrain from arbitrarily arresting and detaining citizens for expressing dissent, and must promptly liberate every political detainee in Zimbabwe.
We call upon the Regional and International Community, including the African Union and the Southern African Development Community, to take a firm stance and hold the Zimbabwean government accountable for failing to respect its own constitution, and the civil and political rights of individuals under its jurisdiction as enumerated in several regional treaties, including the SADC Treaty and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which Zimbabwe is a signatory. Zimbabwean authorities must immediately end this systematic human rights abuse, especially as the country heads for general elections in a few months. The SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections are clear that Member States have an obligation to ensure political tolerance and the full participation of citizens in the political process. The African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, also mandates states to respect human rights, democratic principles, and the rule of law. There can be no free and fair elections in Zimbabwe under the current repressive environment.
The international community should continue to work towards supporting civil society organizations, democracy activists, and human rights defenders in Zimbabwe, who continue to operate under difficult conditions.
Lastly, SouthernDefenders stands in solidarity with Jacob Ngarivhume, his family and all democracy activists in Zimbabwe including detained opposition Member of Parliament, Job Sikhala, who are victim of political imprisonment. We will continue to monitor the human rights situation closely and especially ahead of the coming 2023 elections.