Zimbabwean Teachers’ Union Leader Convicted of Obstruction of Justice

Teachers' union leader Obert Masaraure convicted of obstruction of justice for social media post.

by Victor Adetimilehin

In a controversial verdict, Obert Masaraure, the firebrand leader of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ), was found guilty of obstructing justice on May 22nd, 2024, by Harare magistrate Feresi Chakanyuka. Masaraure vehemently denied the charges throughout the trial.

Social Media Post at the Center of the Case

The crux of the case revolves around a social media post published by Masaraure in July 2022. The prosecution argued that a statement posted on X (formerly known as Twitter) and the ARTUZ website by Masaraure was intended to prejudice his ongoing murder trial and that of his colleague Robson Chere. They alleged the statement aimed to influence the court proceedings and incite public violence by pressuring both the teachers’ union members and the general public.

The specific content of the post centered around demanding Chere’s release. Chere was arrested in connection with the death of ARTUZ member Roy Issa in 2016. Issa tragically fell from a window in a Harare hotel. An official inquest cleared Chere of any wrongdoing; however, authorities reopened the case and charged both him and Masaraure with murder.

This conviction is just one of several legal battles Masaraure is currently fighting. The human rights activist faces additional charges, including subversion and breaching COVID-19 regulations.  Also, he is scheduled to appear in court again on Thursday for a pre-sentencing hearing related to the obstruction of justice conviction.

Union Questions Fairness of Trial

The ARTUZ union has strongly condemned the verdict, calling it a politically motivated attempt to silence dissent. Union officials argue that Masaraure’s social media post was simply an expression of support for a colleague facing serious charges and that the conviction stifles free speech. They have vowed to appeal the decision.

Legal experts in Zimbabwe are divided on the verdict. Some believe the court’s decision sets a dangerous precedent, potentially criminalizing free speech on social media. Moreover, others argue that the content of the post, considering the ongoing murder trial, could be interpreted as an attempt to influence the judicial process.

Uncertainties Surround Masaraure’s Future

The conviction of Masaraure casts a shadow of uncertainty over his future. A potential prison sentence could significantly impact his ability to lead the teachers’ union and advocate for its members. The upcoming pre-sentencing hearing will be crucial in determining the severity of the punishment he may face.

However, this case has reignited concerns over the treatment of teachers’ unions and activists in Zimbabwe. Also, the ARTUZ union has a history of challenging the government on issues of teacher welfare and education funding. Some observers fear that the Masaraure verdict might be a sign of a wider crackdown on dissent within the education sector.

The international community is also closely monitoring the situation. Human rights organizations have expressed concern about the Masaraure verdict, urging the Zimbabwean government to uphold freedom of expression and ensure a fair trial for all citizens.

Moreover, the coming weeks and months will be critical in determining the outcome of Masaraure’s legal battles and the broader implications for freedom of speech and teachers’ rights in Zimbabwe.

Source: New Zimbabwe


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