University of Zimbabwe law lecturer Munyaradzi Gwisai and five other members of his International Socialist Organisation (ISO) on Wednesday escaped a custodial sentence following their conviction on charges of conspiracy to commit public violence.
Gwisai, Antonater Choto, Tatenda Mombeyarara, Edson Chakuma, Hopewell Gumbo and Welcome Zimuto were arrested in February last year after police raided a meeting in which they were watching videos of Egypt protests.
Harare provincial magistrate Kudakwashe Jarabini fined them $500 each on top of a suspended two-year sentence.
Jarabini suspended 12 months of the sentence for five years on condition of good behaviour and the remaining months on condition each completed 420 hours of community service.
But their lawyer Aleck Muchadehama immediately applied to be given more time to pay the fines and also indicated plans to appeal against both conviction and sentence.
The application for more time to pay the fines was granted while the hearing into the application for suspension of community service pending appeal was set for March 26.
In coming up with a sentence, Jarabini said the court had taken into consideration the activists personal circumstances and that they had failed to carry out their planned violent activities.
It is a very serious offence, but the court noted that they did not succeed, he said.
They were interrupted before the finer details.
It is important to note that the political climate was conducive enough to easily incite a riot.
The timing of the meeting was deliberate taking advantage that these videos were being shown all over.
If such information would have been successfully disseminated, it would have caused a revolt, he added.
He said that tranquillity should be seen prevailing at all times since the principals in the inclusive government were advocating for peace.
Jarabini said sentence should not be outrageous and send shock to the public but should be a strong warning to would-be offenders.
He said sending Gwisai to prison would disadvantage his students, but warned the former MDC-T Highfield MP not to take advantage of that to commit crime.
The court also considered Chotos ill health.
Gwisai and Choto are expected to perform their community service at Haig Park Primary School while Mombeyarara will be at Zengeza 4 High School.
Chakuma, Gumbo and Zimuto will be at Warren Park Primary School, Queensdale Primary School and Chinhoyi Hospital, respectively.
The six are expected to begin their sentences on March 31 but will only be working on Saturdays and Sundays.
Meanwhile, seven student activists were arrested after they burst into song and sloganeering soon after announcement of the sentence.
They were taken to Harare Central Police Station.
At the time of going to print last night, it was not clear what charges they were facing.