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Zimbabwe Oppo MP Gets Conviction Election Ban

FILE: MP job Sikhala speaking to his lawyers. Taken November 21, 2022
FILE: MP job Sikhala speaking to his lawyers. Taken November 21, 2022

HARARE - A popular opposition politician in Zimbabwe, Job Sikhala, on Wednesday was convicted in a high-profile trial of obstruction of justice, a move that bars him from contesting upcoming elections.

In a case that critics said was politically motivated, Job Sikhala was found guilty by a Harare court almost a year after he was first arrested, and after spending more than 300 days behind bars pending the verdict.

"The state has proved its case beyond any reasonable doubt," magistrate Marewanazvo Gofa told the court.

"The accused has no defense at all and is hereby found guilty and convicted of the offence".

Charges against Sikhala were based on a video in which he allegedly demanded justice for the murder of another opposition activist whose mutilated body was found in a well.

Prosecutors alleged that by blaming the ruling ZANU-PF party for the death he diverted investigations that were focusing on other suspects.

The charge is one of several facing the 50-year-old firebrand.

He is accused in other cases of inciting public violence over the same video and of publishing falsehoods. Judges are still to reach a verdict in those cases.

Sikhala has been held in a maximum security prison in the capital Harare since June 2022 and unsuccessfully applied for bail for 15 times.

The conviction is the first in his long and troubled political career, which includes 67 arrests, according to one of his lawyers.

The verdict means Sikhala will be unable to contest presidential and legislative elections which are to be held in August, although no date has been announced yet.

Critics have accused the government or using the courts to prevent some opposition politicians from running.

Jacob Ngarivhume, leader of a small opposition party was last week jailed for four years for inciting public violence, a sentence he said was a way to keep him away from participating in the next election.

Rights groups and opposition parties have complained of an escalating clampdown ahead of the vote.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa is struggling to ease entrenched poverty, end chronic power cuts and rein in inflation.