By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
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‘Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Sentence Is a Twisted Joke’As some of our Publishing Perspectives readers will be aware, the Zimbabwean playwright, author, and filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga was convicted Thursday (September 29) for inciting public violence while peacefully demonstrating for government reforms in July 2020. She was along with Julian Barnes—this year’s recipient of the Jerusalem Prize—fined 70,000 Zimbabwean dollars (US$217). Dangarembga and Barnes each drew a suspended prison sentence.
You may recall that the 2021 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade was awarded to Dangarembga at the conclusion of Frankfurter Buchmesse, last October.
Advocacy organizations for freedom of expression and the freedom to publish are quickly condemning what is seen by many as a sham trial in Harare arranged by an oppressive state.
“We are appalled by this verdict,” Liesl Gerntholtz, director of the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Center at PEN America has said in a statement following the conviction. Both Dangarembga and Barnes are reported to be subject to six months’ imprisonment if they “offend” the state again within five years. “This conviction makes clear just how much peaceful protest and free expression are under threat in Zimbabwe,” Gerntholtz says, “and how much brave writers like Dangarembga risk when they stand up for these rights.”
This reaction is being replicated in many parts of the world, and today (September 30) is reflected in a statement issued from the International Publishers Association‘s (IPA) offices in Geneva.
“Tsitsi Dangarembga’s sentence is a twisted joke,” says Kristenn Einarsson, IPA Freedom to Publish chair and managing director of the Norway-based World Expression Forum (WEXFO).
“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.”
Media messaging from the IPA includes the text of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document ratified by Zimbabwe. Article 19 reads:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
“This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Dangarembga, 63, in fact quoted Article 19 herself when in 2020, she spoke to the digitally produced general assembly of the IPA, and we’ll embed her comments below.
In an article from Tracy McVeigh at the Guardian today, it’s pointed out that Dangarembga has said that “two years of waiting for the case to be concluded, as well as 30 court appearances, has taken a toll.”
The ruling kakistocracy, Zanu-PF, “still thinks they are untouchable,” Dangarembga says to McVeigh. “They have some European countries who are doing realpolitik, engaging. They have allies in China and Russia. So they will survive. Anyone who has the opportunity to leave, leaves. Capacity is being drained. I don’t think Zanu is interested in building the country—their mindset is that ‘this is all ours to exploit.’”
And in her IPA address, Dangarembga said, “Zimbabwe, where I come from, is quite a good example of an area of the world which tries by all means to curtail individuals’ rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and their right to receive and impart information and ideas. Coming from such a country, I am seized with how to remove impediments of the flow and reception of narrative, and with how to open up—or at least provide alternatives—to close repressive communication systems.”
Here is the recording of her IPA address.
More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.