Zimbabwean Activist Released on Bail Following Fourth Arrest

Evan Mawarire wears the Zimbabwean flag over his shoulders [ Wikimedia Commons ]

Evan Mawarire wears the Zimbabwean flag over his shoulders [Wikimedia Commons]

The High Court of Zimbabwe released Evan Mawarire—activist, pastor, and founder of the #ThisFlag movement in Zimbabwe—on bail from Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison on January 30 after he was charged with “subverting a constitutional government” amid anti-government protests. Mawarire spent two weeks in prison and paid 2,000 USD for his release. The date of his trial has not been set. If convicted, Mawarire faces up to 20 years in jail.

The protests that led to Mawarire’s arrest on January 16 arose in response to Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s decision to double the price of fuel. Protesters demonstrated in the streets, barricaded roads, set fire to a police station, and looted stores. Security forces armed with live ammunition, rubber bullets, and tear gas were sent to control the crowds, and the internet and mobile networks were temporarily shut down.

Zimbabwean authorities have denied responsibility for violent actions committed by security forces, claiming instead that Mnangagwa’s political opponents sent "bogus elements" in stolen uniforms to stoke unrest. Mnangagwa has promised to investigate the actions of security forces. Regardless of where responsibility lies, the fact remains that 12 were killed and over 1,100 were arrested as a result of the turmoil.

Before and during the violence, Mawarire, operating through Facebook and Twitter, called for angered citizens to support the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions’ peaceful stay-at-home strike, rather than taking to the streets. Despite his emphasis on nonviolence, Zimbabwean authorities arrested Mawarire at his home three days after protests began on the charge of “inciting violence” through social media, which was later changed to subversion.

This is not the first—nor second, nor third—time Mawarire has found himself in legal jeopardy for protesting the government. In 2016, Mawarire prompted the #ThisFlag campaign, a mass movement in which Zimbabwean citizens decried widespread poverty and corruption under the Mugabe regime.

The movement began when, a day after Zimbabwe’s independence day, Mawarire posted a video on Facebook of himself wrapped in the Zimbabwean flag, asking viewers to take action to bring the country out of its difficult economic state. Although the video did not directly mention the Mugabe government, it sparked an invigorated response by people who used #ThisFlag as a slogan to condemn government corruption and inefficiency.

The nonviolent movement began with a series of social media posts by people wearing the Zimbabwean flag but later evolved into demonstrations in which people took to the streets. As citizens became increasingly agitated over the government’s lack of funds, violent conflicts broke out between demonstrators and police.

Mawarire responded by calling for a peaceful national stay-away day which forced businesses across Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, and other cities to shut down. Authorities arrested Mawarire three times in 2017, each time for “subverting a constitutionally elected government” or “inciting public violence.” The court dismissed his charges.

Upon his fourth release from jail, Mawarire particularly noted the lack of medical services available to detainees, many of whom had been injured in the protests. He explained, “I was locked up with over 300 young men whose limbs were broken after being beaten by soldiers and police. It is a tragedy; it is a shame."

In the face of ongoing economic and political frustration, Mawarire stated that he has “no choice” but to continue the struggle. "Our [objective] has never been to overthrow the government," Mawarire said. "All I've asked for is for our country to be fixed."