A Zimbabwean opposition figure seen by supporters as the face of resistance to repression has been convicted

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — A Zimbabwean opposition leader who spent nearly 600 days in pre-trial detention was convicted Wednesday of inciting public violence, as some supporters cried foul over his treatment of the man who Seen by many as the face of the resistance. Alleged repression by the government.

Job Sikhala, an outspoken official of the main opposition Citizens Coalition for Change party and former member of parliament, was detained in June 2022 after a worker of his party was killed and dismembered. He was accused of using social media to encourage opposition supporters to react violently to the death of Morblessing Ali.

Sikhala denied the allegations, arguing that he was acting as the family's lawyer in a quest to find Ali, whose body parts were later found in a well.

However, magistrate Tafadzwa Miti said the evidence showed Sikhala and opposition lawmaker Godfrey Sithole were responsible for the violence that followed Ali's death near the capital Harare.

Both men face up to 10 years in jail or a fine.

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Sikhala has been arrested more than 65 times over the past 20 years and was released each time before Wednesday's decision, his lawyers said. Supporters say his case highlights the repression of dissenting voices in the southern African country.

The Harare court was filled with tension. Dozens of people who could not fit in the small courtroom packed the aisles and pushed past the police.

Outside, police in anti-riot gear and brandishing batons blocked a group of activists from entering the courtyard to protest Sikhla's continued detention. Some people cried after the verdict was announced.

“Let them do what they want. I don't care, don't worry,” he said, wearing shackles on his legs as he walked from the court's holding cell.

Harrison Nkomo, one of Sikhala's lawyers, said he has been instructed to appeal Wednesday's decision.

The court will hear mitigation on Monday, a routine procedure in which lawyers plead for leniency before sentencing.

Global and local human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have protested the treatment of Sikhala, saying that his condition underlines the continuing repression of the opposition and other government critics such as university students and labor unionists.

Last year's election in Zimbabwe, the second since a coup that ousted the late and long-serving Robert Mugabe, was marked by allegations of violence, arrests, disruption of opposition activities and disputed results.

Current President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a former Mugabe ally who took power after a military-backed coup with promises of democratic reforms, denies accusations of exerting pressure on the opposition. He emphasizes that his government has improved the political environment and human rights situation.

Douglas Coltart, one of Sikhala's lawyers, accused the government of using the law and the courts to punish vocal rivals.

“The human rights situation in this country is extremely worrying. And it appears to be getting worse,” he said outside court.

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