Update: Thankfully, since this post was published, Evan Mawarire has been released.
Back in November, I was pleased to moderate a conversation with pastor Evan Mawarire, the leader of the #ThisFlag movement, which in 2016 channeled citizens’ frustrations into large-scale protests against corruption, human rights abuse, and economic decline in Zimbabwe. It was therefore deeply distressing to learn that he was arrested last Wednesday at Harare International Airport when he returned to the country. He continues to be held at Harare Central Police Station.
Mawarire was initially charged with subverting a constitutionally-elected government and was expected to appear in court for a hearing and the opportunity to make bail. However, additional charges of insulting the Zimbabwean flag and inciting violence were added in an apparent attempt to prolong his detention and suppress his cause. He is expected back in court on February 17. If the case proceeds to trial he could face 20 years in prison.
Mawarire was previously arrested for treason last July. After thousands protested outside the courthouse, the charges were dismissed and he was released. He left soon after for South Africa and, subsequently, the United States, fearing for his safety.
Zimbabwe’s criminal justice system should not be used to intimidate citizens who speak out against abuse or target activists who organize peaceful resistance. Mawarire should be released and the charges against him dropped.