Zimbabwean pastor Evan Mawarire, known for his contribution in recent mass anti-government protests dubbed ‘national shutdown’ was released from prison a day after he was arrested for trying to overthrow President Robert Mugabe’s government.
A magistrate handling Mawarire’s case, set him free noting that his arrest was unconstitutional. “It is my finding that the National Prosecuting Authority cannot charge the accused,” Judge Vakai Chikwekwe said in a court in the capital, Harare. “I hereby refuse to put him on remand.”
It is reported that when the authorities arrested the 39-year old religious leader, was he was charged with inciting public violence, but when he was brought before magistrate Mr Vakayi Chikwekwe, the State had altered his charge to “subverting a constitutional government.” Such a crime attracts up to 20 years in jail, Mawarire’s lawyer, Harrison Nkomo said.
Following the arrest on Tuesday, more than a thousand of Mawarire supporters, draped in Zimbabwean flags, held a candle-lit vigil outside the court calling for his release. Others took to social media using hashtags #ShutDownZim 2016 and #ZimbabweShutdown in support of the pastor and a change in the country. More than 200 lawyers in support of the religious leader showed up at the courtroom on Wednesday, the Daily Maverick reported.
Mr Nkomo who was appearing for Mawarire convinced the magistrate that the charges against his client were different to those put to Mawarire when he was arrested at Harare Central Police Station on Tuesday. The magistrate ruled that the arrest was unconstitutional, and released the pastor who was met by a cheerful crowd of supporters outside the court.
Recently, Zimbabweans have become rights advocates thanks to social media and anti-government leaders such as Mawarire, who continue to push citizens to demand their rights through protests. On the eve of a planned repeat protest, which urged Zimbabweans to stay home from work for two days, the pastor was summoned to a Harare police station, where he was arrested and detained overnight.
Mawarire tore into the limelight in May when he organized an online protest #Thisflag which called for protests against Mugabe’s administration which has left the country poor, suffering a cash shortage, lack of pay to civil servants, and inadequate access to funds by consumers’ to offset their bills.
With his YouTube videos, the pastor lamented issues like joblessness, corruption, and emigration, things he said have become synonymous with Zimbabwe. The campaign has since become viral with Zimbabweans sharing pictures of themselves with their flag challenging that the country’s pride be restored.
Activism in Zimbabwe is growing, and people see this as a change that might help restore Zimbabwe’s glory to what it used to be in the post-independence period when it was Africa’s breadbasket. Today, the country is not only wallowing in economic challenges but is also not able to produce enough food for the citizens.
Brian Raftopoulos of the Solidarity Peace Trust, an NGO working on human rights issues in Zimbabwe said: “Zimbabwe may be witnessing a change in the idea of citizenship.” He added that “in the coming period it will be important to track not only the future of such activism but, just as importantly, the responses of the state beyond the current brutality of the police interventions.”
Image credit: www.bulawayo24.com