Sentencing delayed for 6 Zimbabweans convicted of watching Arab Spring videos

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Story highlights

  • 46 people were arrested for watching a video of protests in Egypt and Tunisia
  • 6 were convicted and face up to 10 years in prison
  • Critics call the charges politically motivated
  • Robert Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980

Sentencing has been delayed for six Zimbabweans convicted of conspiracy to commit public violence after they were caught watching footage of Arab Spring protests.

They face six to 10 years in prison or a $2,000 fine.

Their attorney argued for lighter sentences Tuesday, but there was no word yet on when the judge would return with a decision.

The Zimbabweans were among 46 people arrested on February 19, 2011, during an academic meeting in which a video was shown about events in Tunisia and Egypt.

Some said they were dismayed at the verdict.

"I am very disappointed that they were found guilty," defense lawyer Alec Muchadehama said shortly after hearing the verdict Monday.

Rights activist Munyaradzi Gwisai said the verdict was "not surprising."

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    "We are not deterred," Gwisai said. "We are not intimidated."

    Police released 40 of the attendees, but charged the rest with treason or attempt to overthrow the government by unconstitutional means. Those charges were altered to conspiracy to commit public violence.

    The government has said the six were plotting an Egyptian-style uprising in the southern African country. Critics have called the charges politically motivated.

    The defendants were allegedly watching video footage of protests that led to the ouster of Presidents Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.

    Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, 87, has ruled Zimbabwe since its independence in 1980. He has been accused of rigging elections and instituting repressive laws to tighten his grip on power.

    The arrests may be an indication that authorities are worried the winds of change sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East may inspire Zimbabweans to rise up, too.

    The opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, which is in a troubled unity government with Mugabe's ZANU-PF, has called the arrests "an abuse of state machinery by ZANU-PF to suppress the people's views."

    Mugabe has called for new elections, but his political rival and leader of the MDC, Morgan Tsvangirai, has threatened to boycott the poll if a referendum on a new constitution is not held. In an interview with CNN, Tsvangirai called Monday's judgment "very, very unfortunate. One thing I would say is it's totally uncalled for."

    Asked whether an Arab Spring-type movement is needed in Zimbabwe, he said, "Now we are on another path of negotiation and setting up a transitional government and having elections -- there's no need for it."

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