A Zimbabwean pastor who was arrested for organizing protests against the government of 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe should be freed on bail, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Evan Mawarire, who launched a protest movement on social media called #ThisFlag, has been detained since Friday at a maximum-security prison in the capital, Harare, on charges of subverting a constitutionally elected government. He faces 20 years in prison if convicted.
He was arrested when he returned from the United States, where he had gone following his arrest and release in July. While in the U.S., he organized protests against Zimbabwe’s government at United Nations headquarters.
Mawarire should be released on $300 bail, surrender his passport and report twice a week to police, Judge Clement Phiri ruled.
Prosecutor Edmore Nyazamba had argued that Mawarire was a flight risk and described the pastor as a “terrorist.”
But the judge agreed with Harrison Nkomo, a lawyer for Mawarire who called the charges weak. “The applicant is not the kind of person to abscond,” the judge said.
Mawarire’s prosecution has “a chilling effect on peaceful activism in Zimbabwe,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, regional deputy director for Amnesty International. Mwananyanda said the charges should be dropped.
Mugabe, in power since independence in 1980, faces a brewing succession battle within the ruling ZANU-PF party amid economic turmoil. Police cracked down on last year’s protests, and Mugabe said people unhappy with the situation in Zimbabwe should leave.
In another case, Zimbabwe’s constitutional court dismissed a case brought by an activist who wanted the court to rule that Mugabe’s use of state security agents to quell protests was unconstitutional. The court said Promise Mkwananzi, leader of the #Tajamuka group that has led anti-government protests, did not follow correct procedure in filing the case.
Mkwananzi can resubmit within 30 days.
FOLLOW NEW AFRICA BUSINESS NEWS ON FACEBOOK @ New Africa Business News.com