A Zimbabwe court on Friday sentenced an opposition politician to four years in prison for inciting public violence over a 2020 protest call he posted on Twitter.
Jacob Ngarivhume, leader of small opposition party Transform Zimbabwe, tweeted a call for nationwide anti-government protests over corruption and the country’s catastrophic economic state.
He will stay behind bars for three years after the court set aside one year on condition of good behaviour.
“A fine or suspended sentence would not deter further offenders, a sentence must be meaningful,” ruled magistrate Florence Chakanyuka.
The sentence is seen as setting a precedence for other suspects facing similar charges.
Job Sikhala, a popular opposition politician has been in prison for over 300 days for allegedly inciting violence during a speech. He still awaits judgment, which is due next week.
The southern African country is due to hold presidential and legislative polls in August, but no date has been announced yet.
In a video posted on his Twitter account on Friday before the sentencing, Ngarivhume alleged from inside the court that the state was using tactics to stop him for participating in the upcoming polls.
The ruling Zanu-PF party, “obviously don’t want me to be a participant in the next election”, he said.
“We absolutely understand what they want to achieve, they want to silence all voices of dissent in this country” the politician charged.
Defence lawyer Lovemore Madhuku said he would appeal the “outrageous” sentence.
“You cannot send a political leader to jail… for merely tweeting what you consider to be incitement” Madhuku, told reporters outside the court.
Zanu-PF has been accused in the past of using violence and intimidation to instill fear in opponents during elections.
Government faces widespread discontent as it struggles to ease entrenched poverty and end chronic power cuts and crippling unemployment.