Zimbabwe has released a group of Christian cult members arrested in July for singing protest gospels after a court handed down suspended sentences, their lawyers said on Wednesday.
Police arrested 34 believers in the apostolic sect as they walked in central Harare dressed in colorful church regalia and chanted “(Lord) please put us out of our suffering,” lawyers said.
Most of the group’s members were young women associated with the small opposition Zimbabwe Transformative Party (ZTP).
A court in Harare on Tuesday found the 34 guilty of criminal harassment over the peaceful demonstration, handing each a three-month suspended sentence and a fine of 12,000 Zimbabwe dollars (US$33).
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Authorities said their action obstructed the passage of people and vehicles and that the protesters failed to heed police orders to stop.
The group spent four months behind bars after refusing to ask for bail.
“We just got out of prison and we’re still considering our next step,” ZTP deputy head Simon Goshomi, who was among those detained, told AFP on Wednesday.
Attorney Evans Moyo said his clients were “not happy” with the verdict and could appeal.
Right-wing groups and opposition parties have complained about an increased government crackdown on dissent as the country heads towards next year’s general election.
ZTP leader Kanyezura Parere, who was also arrested during the July protests, will be tried separately on various charges of breach of the peace and remains in prison.
Parere is Bishop of the Mirirai Jehovah Apostolic Church.
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Discontent in Zimbabwe is growing as President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who succeeded longtime ruler Robert Mugabe in 2017, struggles to alleviate gridlocked poverty, end the country’s chronic power outages and control inflation.
Human rights groups have complained about repeated arbitrary arrests and often exceptionally harsh detention among Mnangagwa.