Police keep guard outside the Harare Magistrates Court in Harare for pastor Evan Mawarire’s appearance. Photo / AP
A court in Zimbabwe has freed a pastor who organised the largest
nationwide strike against the Government in nearly a decade, ruling that
police violated his rights.
Magistrate Vakayi Chikwekwe told a
packed courtroom that the decision to bring new charges in court against
Evan Mawarire was unconstitutional.
Mawarire was charged with
inciting violence when he was arrested on Wednesday, but prosecutors
shortly before his court appearance today changed it to more serious
charges of attempting to overthrow a constitutionally elected
Mawarire’s lawyer protested that the last-minute change was unconstitutional, and the magistrate agreed.
of singing supporters greeted the release of Mawarire, who has rallied
Zimbabweans with a with a social media campaign called #ThisFlag,
encouraging them to reclaim their flag by urging President Robert
Mugabe’s Government to properly manage the country’s battered economy.
“We will not relent until our demands are met. Corruption must
end,” Mawarire told the raucous crowd, a Zimbabwe flag draped around
Supporters, standing in the dark, held up candles and mobile phones to light him.
of supporters in the courtroom’s public gallery had laughed in derision
when the prosecutor announced the new charges, which could have brought
Mawarire 20 years in prison.
During the day, hundreds of
supporters outside the Harare Magistrates Court, many wearing the
Zimbabwe flag, sang in defiance. Activists chanted slogans and prayed.
Riot police and water cannons and riot police surrounded the court.
Many people last week answered Mawarire’s call on social media for a job boycott to protest dismal economic conditions.
It was the largest such boycott in Zimbabwe in nearly a decade.
boycott had been called for today, but the response appeared muted. The
Government has warned organizers of further protests that “they will
face the full wrath of the law.”
Evan Mawarire, a young pastor, posing with a Zimbabwean flag in Harare. Photo / AP