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Zimbabwe opposition figure gets suspended sentence after nearly 2 years in pretrial detention

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — A Zimbabwe opposition figure who spent nearly two years in pretrial detention is set be freed after a magistrate sentenced him to a suspended prison sentence on Tuesday for inciting violence.

Job Sikhala, an outspoken official with the main opposition Citizens Coalition for Change party and a former member of parliament, was given the suspended two-year sentence after a trial that supporters criticized as being politically motivated. Amnesty International has called the charges “baseless” and said his treatment was an example of the government's attempts to silence dissent.

Sikhala, seen by many as the face of resistance to Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party and President Emmerson Mnangagwa, was arrested in June 2022 following the killing and dismembering of an activist from his party. He was accused of using social media to encourage opposition supporters to violently respond to the death of Moreblessing Ali.

Sikhala denied the charges, saying that he was simply acting as the family’s lawyer and helping them try to find Ali. Her body parts were later discovered in a well.

The 52-year-old Sikhala was convicted last week. His lawyers said his suspended sentence means he can now be freed from the harsh and overcrowded Chikurubi maximum security prison.

“He is now a free man. This is the only case that was keeping him in custody. So he is going to come out,” said one of his lawyers, Harrison Nkomo.

Nkomo said Sikhala had instructed his lawyers to appeal the conviction. “We are not resting," Nkomo said. "What we want is an acquittal.”

Sikhala is expected to be freed within hours. Amid a heavy police presence at the courthouse, a group of Sikhala's supporters sang and danced to celebrate.

Another opposition lawmaker, Godfrey Sithole, was also convicted and given a suspended sentence. Sithole was already out on bail.

Sikhala has been arrested more than 65 times in the past 20 years and walked free each time before his latest conviction, his lawyers said.

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AP Africa news: https://apnews.com/hub/africa