Jailed for Watching Al Jazeera

Old friends of mine in Zimbabwe organized a viewing of events in Tunisia and Egypt at a venue in Harare on February 19, followed by a discussion of the implications for those living under their own dictator, Robert Mugabe. For this, they were rounded up, jailed, beaten, some were tortured and denied their HIV medications and 6 are now facing treason charges, punishable by hanging.

My friends have a hearing today to determine if bail will be set and since international pressure is already having a huge impact—39 of the 45 were released Monday—I urge every one of you to please read the petition Free the Zimbabwean Activists Now!, sign and circulate it.

Sometimes folks wonder if their small actions have an impact on global events such as these. They do.

I recall a few years back when a South Korean woman I had never met before told me  that when she was in jail for protesting government cuts, word filtered back to her from the guards that we had been picketing and petitioning in New York to secure her release and that of the others. She hugged me and said knowing that people half a world away had taken action for total strangers gave her hope and confidence that she would not languish behind bars in perpetuity.

In fact, our efforts outside embassies and consulates did manage to win her and the others an early release. Governments—even repugnant and repressive ones like Mugabe’s—don’t want to be outed and publicly shamed for the actions they take against democratic movements and activists. They work best under cover of silence.

So imbibe the spirit of the moment when solidarity and action are the watchwords of our time. Please sign the petition, circulate it to friends and contacts and join a picket if you can.

You just might help a stranger in Africa whose crime, after all, was watching TV.

Protests to defend the jailed socialists are planned for today, March 9. In New York City, join picketers outside the Zimbabwean Mission at 12:30 p.m. at 128 E. 56th St., between Park and Lexington Avenues. In Washington, D.C., a picket is planned at the Zimbabwean Embassy at 12 Noon, at 1608 New Hampshire Avenue NW, near DuPont Circle.

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