On September 29th, acclaimed writer Tsitsi Dangarembga was convicted of inciting public violence for participating in a peaceful protest for government reforms in July 2020. 

“We are appalled by this verdict,” Liesl Gerntholtz, director of the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Center, said following the conviction. “This conviction makes clear just how much peaceful protest and free expression are under threat in Zimbabwe and how much brave writers like Dangarembga risk when they stand up for these rights.”

Both Dangarembga and Julie Barnes were fined $70,000 Zimbabwean dollars ($217 U.S. dollars) and given a suspended sentence. Both are subject to six months of imprisonment should they reoffend within the next five years.

(NEW YORK) – Ahead of the verdict slated to be handed down on Sept. 29 against writer, playwright, and filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga spurious charges of inciting public violence in 2020, PEN America today called on Zimbabwean authorities to immediately vacate the charges. If convicted, Dangarembga faces several years in prison.

Dangarembga is recognized internationally for her work; her latest novel, This Mournable Body, was short-listed for the Booker Prize in 2020. Her debut novel, Nervous Conditions (1988), was the first to be published in English by a Black woman from Zimbabwe, and was named by the BBC as one of the top 100 books that have shaped the world.

“Tsitsi Dangarembga was arrested for exercising her right to peaceful protest. Her arrest and the long drawn out trial against her is clearly intended to send a frightening message to anyone in Zimbabwe who wants to exercise their right to free expression and criticize their government,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, director of the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Center. “If she is convicted on these spurious charges, it will further stifle free expression and human rights in Zimbabwe. We urge the authorities to immediately drop the charges and to respect and uphold the right to free expression and association.”

She was arrested alongside journalist Julie Barnes in July 2020 for joining a peaceful demonstration criticizing the Zimbabwean government’s efforts to handle corruption and the struggling economy. Both were charged with breaking COVID-19 lockdown measures to hold an illegal gathering and inciting violence in the Anti-Corruption Court—the only court that does not report to the Justice Ministry, but directly to the president’s office. The trial has been delayed over the course of the last two years, and Dangarembga appeared in court nearly 30 times.