Pastor Evan Mawarire, founder of the #ThisFlag movement in Zimbabwe, is expected in court Friday after his arrest Wednesday at the Harare International Airport, where he was returning from a trip to the United States.
Supporters of the human rights activist gathered to wait for Mawarire’s appearance on Thursday, but he never showed up for a hearing and remained in police custody in Harare.
Lawyers confirmed that the outspoken critic of Zimbabwe’s corruption and ongoing economic crisis faces up to 20 years in prison for “subverting a constitutionally elected government,” according to local media reports. Those charges are tied in part to protests against President Robert Mugabe organized in New York last September; an additional charge of “insulting the flag” also was lodged against him.
Democracy and human rights advocates have said the charges are clearly politically motivated.
“He has committed no crime but to take a stand against human rights violations,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa, in a statement.
Mwananyanda said charges against the pastor were a trumped-up sham.
“Coming after a similar charge against him last year, it is designed to make him stop his human rights activism and to punish him for speaking out about the declining human rights situation in Zimbabwe,” he added.
Mawarire was arrested last July and charged with incitement to commit public violence because he was leader of a two-day national shut down. He was released after a magistrate found his arrest to be unconstitutional and dropped that charge against him.
“We believe that the Zimbabwean government is intentionally trying to silence him and the #ThisFlag movement,” said Sara Brandt, a policy and research analyst with the CIVICUS organization.
Brandt added that Mawarire is the victim of a government bent on criminalizing dissenting voices.
To watch the four-minute video that launched the #ThisFlag movement, see this link.
Image: Evan Mawarire