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US Citizen Arrested in Zimbabwe, Accused of Undermining Mugabe


FILE - Zimbabwean President Robert Muagbe addresses mourners at the Heroes Acre in Harare, Nov. 1, 2017.

An American woman who works for an online television station in Zimbabwe was arrested and accused of undermining the authority of President Robert Mugabe on social media, according to her lawyers.

The group Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, which is representing Martha O'Donovan, said police made a dawn raid Friday at her Harare home and confiscated some of her electronic devices.

O'Donovan's arrest did not come as a surprise, according to Kumbirai Mafunda, the spokesman for the lawyers' group.

"We have noted a worrying trend in terms of arresting people and charging them with insulting or undermining the authority of the president," Mafunda said. "So we see this as an intensification of the clampdown on dissent. It is just that this — the first Twitter-related arrest coming after the establishment of the ministry of the cybersecurity. We were not really surprised. We know this government to be worried or concerned with free expression, especially as we move toward the 2018 elections."

Last month, Mugabe's spokesman said his boss had established a ministry of cybersecurity, threat detection and mitigation "to trap all rats" accused of abuse on social media and the internet.

On Friday, U.S. embassy spokesman David McGuire confirmed the arrest.

"U.S. consular services have been in contact with the American citizen and we have confirmed that she is being represented by a counsel. Obviously, we are concerned and aware of the situation; we will continue to monitor it closely," McGuire said.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said O'Donovan might appear in court Saturday.