MASVINGO — Human rights lawyers have filed a High Court bail appeal for a widowed primary school teacher sentenced to 16 months imprisonment after she was arrested for public violence during a “peaceful” protest for better pay.
Sheila Chisirimunhu, a gender and welfare secretary for the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ), began her jail time last week amid outrage from trade union movements and human rights campaigners.
“We are investing our energies in doing all we can to have ARTUZ leader Sheila Chirisamhuru released from prison,” said attorneys from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR).
“And on Thursday we filed a bail application at Masvingo High Court pending determination of her appeal against both conviction and sentence.”
Chisirimunhu was arrested a few months ago during a protest by teachers in Masvingo calling on the government to reinstate their downgraded salaries back to US$520.
“Sheila joined other teachers and peacefully protested against the illegal salary slash. Sheila was arrested and charged with public violence,” says ARTUZ in an online petition demanding her release.
“No incidence of violence was ever reported during and after the protest. Sheila was ridiculously convicted of public violence. Her crime was asking for the restoration of her salary.”
The 53-year-old teacher and unionist will serve 10 months after a magistrate set aside six months of her sentence on condition of good behavior. A male co-defendant was acquitted.
“Both the conviction and sentence are an assault on the freedom to petition duty bearers and labor justice,” ARTUZ argues. “The government has curtailed the freedom of assembly and criminalized trade unionism. We demand Sheila’s freedom!”
Responding to Twitter users demanding Chisirimunhu’s release, government spokesperson Nick Ndabaningi Mangwana pushed back and accused the activists of “agenda driving”.
“I am not aware of this case and its intricacies,” he bantered on a post which had asked if President Emmerson Mnangagwa was aware of the teacher’s plight.
“I think if one wants to arrive at a value judgment, a perusal of the court record first would be more informative than to rush to conclusions based on this type of agenda driving post.”