Outcry at Sentence Given to Zimbabwean Author

 Faber, PEN International and the International Publishers Association (IPA) have all issued statements condemning the suspended prison sentence given to the Zimbabwean 2020 Booker shortlisted novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga after the writer staged a peaceful protest in which she carried placards calling for reform.

 On 29 September 2022, a magistrates court in the Zimbabwean capital Harare sentenced the renowned author, filmmaker, and activist and her co-defendant, Julie Barnes, to six months in jail and a fine of 70,000 Zimbabwe dollars (£200). The sentence has been suspended for the next five years on the condition the pair do not commit the offence again.


In a statement, the pair said their posters had called for a better life for Zimbabweans and “institutional reform in our country, alongside the release of those who had exposed corruption in government in the media, and others who had encouraged citizens to protest, who had been imprisoned without bail and without trial”.

They said: “Our hearts are heavy at this outcome, because this conviction could set the precedent that a Zimbabwean – indeed a person in Zimbabwe – is not free to walk down a road with another citizen displaying peaceful messages that convey their opinions on issues that affect them as people living in this country. We must no longer joke that there is freedom of expression in Zimbabwe, but no freedom after expression. We must take this conviction as a warning sign that our freedom peacefully to express what we want as Zimbabweans in public discourse is being stripped away from us. 

“We are being intimidated into silence and inaction as repression and corruption increase, and the quality of our lives, our hopes for our children’s lives and our children’s confidence in their futures decreases. Freedom, justice and a dignified life are our right as Zimbabwean inhabitants of our planet. We urge you all to stand peacefully for freedom, justice and dignity in our country at all times. We promise you that we will always do the same.”

Faber said it  “strongly condemns” the conviction, and “stands side by side with Tsitsi Dangarembga and Julie Barnes”.  A spokesperson for PEN International said the organisation was “shocked by this news and strongly condemns the systematic misuse of the rule of law by the Zimbabwean authorities to harass, intimidate, and punish Dangarembga and Barnes, simply because they exercised their legitimate right to freedom of expression”.

At the IPA, Kristenn Einarsson, who chair’s the organisation’s Freedom to Publish Committee, said: “Tsitsi Dangarembga’s sentence is a twisted joke. Two people peacefully holding up placards calling for reform cannot be considered to be inciting public violence and breaching the peace. The sentence may well be suspended, but we fully support Tsitsi in her appeal. Failing to do so would be to condemn all Zimbabweans to silence.”