Jailed: A Zimbabwean man has been jailed for likening a fellow pub-goer to president Robert Mugabe's bottom
A Zimbabwean man has been jailed for three months for likening a fellow pub-goer to president Robert Mugabe's bottom.
Clemence Zikhali was imprisoned after a court ruled that he had broken the country's strict insult laws by calling the man 'a Mugabe's a***'.
Mr Zikhali claimed in court that he had meant the comment as a joke and that he had not intended to offend the president. However, magistrate Sheila Nazombe rejected the claims and convicted the cement factory labourer of 'behaviour likely to cause public disorder'.
Mr Zikhali made the remark at a bar in the small town of Gwanda, in south of the country, on the evening of Monday 4th February. In the course of an argument with the unnamed pub goer, he jokingly referred to the man as 'a Mugabe's a***', his lawyer told Bulewayo magistrates' court.
The subject of the insult was a supporter of Mugabe's ruing Zanu-PF party. He reported the slur to the police. As a result, Mr Zikhali was arrested and held in police custody until his appearance at Bulewayo's magistrate's court last Friday.
The three month prison sentence has outraged Mr Zikhali's family and supporters. The labourer's cousin Buletsi Nyathi said: 'We are just shocked with the sentence, it's so disturbing. We have since instructed our lawyers to appeal against the sentence.'
His lawyer Norman Mangena said: 'He mentioned the president in jest while referring to a fellow patron in a bar. It was not a direct insult to the president.'
This is far from the first time that ordinary Zimbabweans have received harsh punishment for making seemingly innocuous jokes about the country's despotic ruler.
Last February carpenter Richmore Mashinga Jazi, 48, was charged with 'undermining the authority of the president' when he mocked television pictures of the 88-year-old ruler's birthday.
Mr Jazi's alleged comment of: 'Who helped Mugabe blow up his birthday balloons? Does he still have the energy?' led to police knocking on his door.
At his subsequent trial, the state prosecutor claimed that Mr Jazi made the statement 'knowing that there was real risk or possibility that the statement was false' and that it could therefore 'cause hatred or contempt of the person of the President'.
In 2011 Zebedia Mpofu, 52, was arrested after joking that a work colleague was only able to eat a packet of biscuits thanks to the country's main opposition party.
The same year an opposition minister was incarcerated for calling Mugabe 'a liar' and another Zimbabwean arrested for calling Mugabe 'an idiot'. Though he is increasingly frail, Robert Mugabe, now aged 88, has ruled Zimbabwe for 33 years since its independence from Britain in 1980.
Under his despotic regime, the country - once the 'bread basket of Southern Africa' - has fallen into penury.
Three quarters of the country's population live on less than £1 a day.
The former military leader has developed a fearsome, Soviet-style cult of personality and uses the police and courts to clamp down on dissent.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has long argued that Mugabe abuses the country's insult laws for political gain.