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Legal Monitor Issue 102
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)

July 20, 2011

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All eyes on facebook trial

The trial date for the first person to be arrested in Zimbabwe in connection with a facebook posting has been set for and will resume in two weeks time.

Vikas Mavhudzi of Bulawayo made history when he was nabbed by police on 24 February for allegedly posting a facebook comment on Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's wall.

Magistrate Gideon Ruwetsa is expected to preside over the matter, while Jeremiah Mutsindikwa will prosecute for the State.

Mavhudzi's lawyers Lizwe Jamela and Nosimilo Chanayiwa of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights say the State case is weak.

The 39-year-old is being charged with subversion after allegedly suggesting that Prime Minister Tsvangirai should emulate events in Egypt that saw long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak fall to a popular street revolt.

"I'm overwhelmed, don't know what to say Mr PM. What happened in Egypt is sending shockwaves to all dictators around the world. No weapon but unity of purpose. Worth emulating, hey," Mavhudzi is alleged to have posted on Tsvangirai's facebook page.

Prosecutors say Mavhudzi suggested to Prime Minister Tsvangirai "the taking over or attempt to take over the government by unconstitutional means or usurping the functions of the government".

Mavhudzi languished in remand prison for weeks after his arrest following the prosecutors' argument that the threat of an Egyptian style revolution was real. The Magistrate Court denied Mavhudzi bail.

He was only freed after Jamela and Chanayiwa successfully appealed against the Magistrate Court's ruling at the High Court. Social networking sites such as facebook and Twitter became effective tools to mobilise against dictators who keep a strong hold on the media.

In Egypt and Tunisia, where dictators muzzled the media young activists rose triumphantly against their regimes using these powerful new media tools.

Locally, the new media tools have become a hazard for Mavhudzi, as the State widens its control to cover social networking sites. While social networking sites have become popular in urban areas, the majority of Zimbabweans who stay in rural and farming communities have no access to such new media.

But that has not stopped the Zimbabwean government from being on the edge since the revolts in North Africa.

Mavhudzi was arrested just as police swooped on 45 people, including International Socialist Organisation local representative Munyaradzi Gwisai for watching television footage of Egyptian and Tunisian revolts.

Gwisai and five others claimed in court that they were tortured while in police custody. They were charged with treason but the State has since indicated that it will prefer lesser charges.

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