Leading Zimbabwean activist and pastor Evan Mawarire was granted bail Tuesday, after his arrest and detention for 13 days on subversion charges following violent anti-government protests.
Mawarire is accused of subversion of a constitutionally elected government and incitement to commit violence by posting videos on social media supporting a national strike called by trade unions.
“I’m persuaded on the facts and circumstances of the case and the applicant that the interest of justice will be served by the admission of the applicant to bail on stringent conditions,” Judge Tawanda Chitapi ruled.
Protests erupted across the country two weeks ago after President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced fuel prices were being doubled in a country suffering spiralling living costs and regular shortages of basic commodities.
There was widespread rioting and looting before troops and police intervened. In the ensuing crackdown, at least 12 people died and hundreds were injured, with 78 people having sustained gunshot wounds.
Police arrested more than 1,100 people, including leading trade unionists, lawmakers from the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and some children.
The judge granted bail for Mawarire subject to a series of conditions. He has to pay $2,000, surrender both his passport and the title deeds to his parents’ house, and report to a police station three times a week.
Mawarire’s lawyer Tonderai Bhatasara said he would leave the Chikurubi maximum security prison on the outskirts of Harare, on Wednesday, once the formalities had been finalised.
The pastor became a prominent voice during protests in 2016, when he posted videos on social media criticising the government while wearing a Zimbabwean flag around his neck.
His posts inspired the #ThisFlag movement that led mass protests against former president Robert Mugabe, ousted in November 2017 after a military takeover.
‘No longer enjoy freedoms’
Earlier Tuesday, MDC president Nelson Chamisa said the crackdown on civilians by the new government was worse than anything in recent years under ousted leader Mugabe.
“This is now 14 months after Mr. Mugabe exiting the political stand, but what we are seeing is actually an escalation, not only of the Mugabe type of terror, but we are actually seeing something that makes Mugabe look like a baby in terms of terrorism,” Chamisa told a news conference.
“At night, people are no longer enjoying their freedoms, they are dragged out of their places of joy and entertainment, restaurants… (and) being beaten up,” he said.
Chamisa, 40, said he had written to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) calling on them to intervene, but had not yet received a response.
“I don’t know how many bodies are supposed to be killed, I don’t know how much blood is supposed to flow on the streets of Harare before the SADC does something,” he said.
“I don’t know how many women are supposed to be raped before we begin to see the intervention of our regional bodies.”
Police said they have received only one report of rape, as they appealed for victims to come forward and report.
Mnangagwa on Monday said he was “appalled” by a televised report showing security forces repeatedly beating a detained civilian, and ordered the arrest of those responsible.
Police said Tuesday they had arrested a constable, allegedly one of the three assailants captured in the video of the attack.
Earlier Tuesday, dozens of lawyers took to the streets to protest the summary trial of the hundreds of civilians arrested in connection with the protests.
By Susan NJANJI