Dangarembga says NPA criminalising free speech as she takes stand

HARARE – Novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga told a court on Wednesday that free speech is not a crime in Zimbabwe as she stood trial on charges of inciting public violence.

Dangarembga is accused of staging an anti-government demonstration with her neighbour, Julie Barnes, in 2020.

Her defence hearing took off before Harare magistrate Barbra Mateko who last week dismisses her application for discharge on grounds that she did not dispute that she participated in a demonstration.

Led by her lawyer Chris Mhike, Dangarembga said she committed no crime.

She also said the National Prosecuting Authority has to date failed to explain why holding a placard, and not talking to anyone, could be interpreted as incitement.

“I deny such allegations. The words written on the placards were in fact suggestions and communication, saying that this is what citizens are saying,” Dangarembga said.

“l did not address any citizens. Members of the press were there, but l did not want to comment on anything as l wanted the peaceful words on the placards to speak for themselves.

“We did not stop anybody or force anybody to engage in anything that we were doing. We just walked on our own.”

Dangarembga said she stands by her words on the placards.

“l had two placards on that day. One was in front and one at the back written, “We want better reforms in our institutions” and “Free Hopewell, Free #Zimbabwe” respectively.

“l was saying free Hopewell (Chin’ono) because l believe in media freedom.”

Dangarembga maintained that everyone has a right to protest peacefully and that is what she did.

“There was no huge crowd reading the messages. The footage shows us just walking as l was minding my own business while ignoring the journalists,” she testified.

Earlier, the magistrate accused the filmmaker of trying to delay the trial by seeking a postponement.

Dangarembga had asked for postponement of the hearing to Monday indicating that she wanted to appeal the magistrate’s ruling dismissing her application for discharge.

The magistrate said the appeal does not in any way stop proceedings in the lower court.

She also said one of her key witnesses would only be available on Sunday.

The court said the witness will testify when he or she is available.

Mhike also said he had not managed to prepare because of the public holidays but the court said he consented to Wednesday’s proceedings knowing that there would be a holiday.

“Last week, when the ruling was delivered, counsel for the accused person asked the court to check their diaries so that they can agree on a date which is today,” Mateko said.

“As of his travel, the counsel should have checked his diary and communicated well before doing so hence the court is of the view that these are delaying tactics.

“An application for review to a higher court does not stop proceedings at lower courts. However, the court will allow the defence to fully prepare and give them a chance to have a fair trial.”

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