HARARE, ZIMBABWE - A court in Zimbabwe granted bail Wednesday to a clergyman opposed to President Robert Mugabe's government who is facing charges of inciting public violence with protesting university students.
Police arrested Pastor Evan Mawarire after he addressed University of Zimbabwe students protesting rising school fees on Monday. Since then, he and his driver, who also was arrested, had been in police custody. On Wednesday, the court granted him $200 bail.
After the court ruling, Harrison Nkomo from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, who is representing Mawarire, said his client had done nothing wrong.
"The [state] papers are a bit confusing in terms of the manner in which they were charged by the police," Nkomo said. "But what actually transpired is that the University of Zimbabwe medical students were registering their displeasure over the hike of school fees by the responsible authorities, and when violence broke, one of the students decided that there was need for divine intervention and called Evan for a prayer. So it was after he went there to give a prayer, on his way out, that he was detained by the police."
That matches what the clergyman posted on his Twitter account from his police cell — that he had "essentially been arrested for praying." He returns to court July 19 for his trial date.
Since his arrest, rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been condemning Mugabe for "persecuting" the clergyman.
Dewa Mavhinga, the Southern Africa Director at Human Rights Watch, Wednesday of Mawarire's release, "We welcome this development and urge the courts to be respectful of Pastor Mawarire or other citizens' rights, in terms of rights to peaceful protests and the rights to due process of law. We hope that going forward, Zimbabwe will be respectful of these fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution of Zimbabwe and in a number of international conventions that Zimbabwe has ratified and is party to."
Despite the fact that Zimbabwe came up with a bill of rights in 2013, which many rights groups cheered, Zimbabweans continue to be arrested for exercising them. Rights groups fear the situation might get worse with elections due next year.