Zimbabwe activists avoid jail over Arab Spring lecture

Munyaradzi Gwisai speaks to a television crew after being found guilty [20 March 2012] Zimbabwe activist Munyaradzi Gwisai was giving the lecture on the Arab Uprising that led to the arrests

Six Zimbabwean activists convicted of inciting public violence by discussing the Arab Spring have avoided prison.

They were each fined $500 (£315) and given 420 hours' community service instead of custodial sentences.

The activists were arrested last year during a public lecture that showed footage of mass protests in Egypt.

Charges of treason that carried the death penalty had been dropped. The group denied all the allegations, saying they were "outright silly".

They have said they will appeal against both the conviction and the sentence.

The activists were among 45 people arrested in February last year when police raided the meeting. The others were released shortly afterwards.

The lecture was being given by Zimbabwean activist Munyaradzi Gwisai, who was an MP for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the former opposition which shares power with President Robert Mugabe.

'Bad intent'

The seminar asked "what lessons can be learnt", which the prosecution said meant they were planning a similar revolt.

During the trial, Gwisai rejected the charges, saying it was "a case of political harassment by the state".

The judge said that while watching the video was not a crime, the "manner and motive" showed bad intent, the Associated Press reports.

He told each of the group that if they failed to pay their fine they faced a 10-month prison sentence and if they failed to do the community work they would be jailed for a year, says AFP news agency.

The BBC's Brian Hungwe in Harare says students sang songs outside the courtroom on Wednesday, saying the trial had been a grave injustice.

The riot police intervened and six students were bundled into a police truck and whisked off, he says.

The activists are linked to the International Socialist Organisation, a group which advances the cause of poor people and the equitable distribution of resources.

President Mugabe's Zanu-PF party formed a unity government with the MDC, led by Morgan Tsvangirai, in 2009.

The deal was supposed to stabilise the economy and introduce political reforms but the relationship has been difficult.

Mr Mugabe says he still has the sole right to decide when elections, due this year, are held.

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