Zimbabwe Court Sentences Opposition Leader for Insulting Russian Businesswoman

Harare, Zimbabwe — A court in Zimbabwe has sentenced an opposition leader to six months in prison or a $300 fine for verbally assaulting a Russian businesswoman.

Magistrate Vongai Guwuriro ruled that Tendai Biti, a former Zimbabwean finance minister, must pay the fine or go to prison, ending a four-year legal battle between Biti and Tatiana Aleshina, who court papers said was a Russian investor.

Biti paid the fine.

Alec Muchadehama, Biti’s attorney, told reporters outside the Harare magistrate’s court Tuesday that Biti would appeal the sentence and conviction.

“Both myself and Tendai Biti are extremely disappointed with the conviction, but I am not surprised that it came to that [conviction],” he said. “This is why we are going to appeal to the High Court, we have various grounds, which we will outline in our grounds of appeal.”

The state prosecutors accused Biti of calling Aleshina “stupid” and pointing at her in 2020. Biti denies the charge of verbal assault.

Aleshina said the ruling was a victory for women.

“Zimbabwe has got justice, even if it has taken long four years. But I learned a lot. I realized if we women can’t stand for our rights, justice will not be revealed,” she said. “And I have nothing to do with Tendai Biti, or anyone, but let him learn good lessons – respect women, and respect not only women, but everyone in this country.”

Aleshina’s supporters outside the court said Biti should have been given a no-fine option and sent to prison, while Biti’s supporters said the punishment for calling someone “stupid” was unfair.

Agnes Togarepi said Biti was innocent.

“How many times do you call someone ‘stupid’ or even ‘idiot’? Is it a crime to point at someone?” she asked.

Biti is vice president of Citizens’ Coalition for Change, Zimbabwe’s main opposition party.

His colleague Job Sikhala, who spent nearly two years in jail, was given a nine-month suspended sentence if he pays a $500 fine by March 4. He was convicted of publishing falsehoods.

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