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Zimbabweans found guilty of watching Arab Spring videos

By the CNN Wire Staff
March 19, 2012 -- Updated 2300 GMT (0700 HKT)
Zimbabwean activist Munyaradzi Gwisal leaves court in Harare Monday after being convicted of planning Egypt-style protests.
Zimbabwean activist Munyaradzi Gwisal leaves court in Harare Monday after being convicted of planning Egypt-style protests.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "We are not deterred. We are not intimidated," rights activist says
  • Forty six people were arrested for watching a video on Egypt and Tunisia protests
  • Critics have called the charges politically motivated
  • Robert Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980

Harare, Zimbabwe (CNN) -- Six Zimbabweans arrested last year for watching footage of the Arab Spring protests were found guilty Monday of conspiracy to commit public violence.

The men face six to 10 years in prison or a $2,000 fine when they are sentenced in a Harare court Tuesday.

They were among 46 people arrested on February 19, 2011, during an academic meeting where a video on events in Tunisia and Egypt was shown.

"I am very disappointed that they were found guilty," defense lawyer Alec Muchadehama said after hearing the verdict.

Rights activist Munyaradzi Gwisai said the verdict was "not surprising."

"We are not deterred," Gwisai said. "We are not intimidated."

Police released 40 of the attendees, but charged the rest with treason or attempt to overthrow the government by unconstitutional means. Those charges were altered to conspiracy to commit public violence.

Zimbabweans guilty in Arab Spring case
Tony Blair looks at Africa's future.

The government has said the six were plotting an Egyptian-style uprising in the southern African country. Critics have called the charges politically motivated.

The defendants were allegedly watching video footage of protests that led to the ouster of Presidents Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, 87, is not unlike the toppled leaders.

He has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980 and has been accused of rigging elections and instituting repressive laws to tighten his grip on power.

The arrests may be an indication authorities are worried the winds of change sweeping across North Africa may inspire Zimbabweans to rise up, too.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, which is in a troubled unity government with Mugabe's ZANU-PF, has called the arrests "an abuse of state machinery by ZANU-PF to suppress the people's views."

Mugabe has called for new elections but his political rival and leader of the MDC, Morgan Tsvangirai, has threatened to boycott the poll if a referendum on a new constitution is not held. In an interview with CNN, Tsvangirai called Monday's judgment "very, very unfortunate. One thing I would say is it's totally uncalled for."

Asked whether an Arab Spring-type movement is needed in Zimbabwe, he said, "Now we are on another path of negotiation and setting up a transitional government and having elections -- there's no need for it."

CNN's Zain Verjee and Journalist Columbus S. Mavhunga contributed to this report.

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