HARARE - Authorities in Zimbabwe Thursday released a pastor facing a charge of trying to subvert President Robert Mugabe’s government, a day after the country’s High Court had granted him release on $300 bail.
Upon pastor Evan Mawarire’s release, journalists outside Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison were begging him to get out of the vehicle he was in and talk to them. Mawarire refused, saying he feared for the prison officials’ security. Later, he had this to say before driving off.
“It has been nine days - I have not gotten home. I would like to see my family. I would like to rest and think about a few things. But it’s something I appreciate, my lawyers have worked hard get us to this stage. I just want to appreciate that. But I am glad to be back home and glad to be a free man, at last. So that we can, I can enjoy Zimbabwe."
When asked whether he was demoralized, he said “No. Not at all. My spirits are up.”
Mawarire was arrested at Harare International Airport last week on arrival from the United States, where he had been in a six-month-long self-imposed exile.
Last week, a lower court said the charge against him of trying to topple a constitutionally elected government was a “Third Schedule Offense.” That led to his lawyer, Harrison Nkomo, to file a bail application at the High Court. The application was granted on Wednesday, but Mawarire could not be released then as paperwork involved could not be completed in time.
Mawarire’s arrest drew worldwide condemnation, including from the U.S. government and human rights groups. Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s deputy director for southern Africa, said bail in the case against the clergyman was not something to celebrate.
“Pastor Evan Mawarire is being subjected to political persecution through the courts for exercising his freedom of expression. His continued persecution has a chilling effect on peaceful activism in Zimbabwe. The release of Pastor Evan Mawarire on bail is not enough; the politically motivated charges against him must be completely withdrawn. The state cannot continue to harass and intimidate him simply for standing up for human rights ... The actions of the state go against the principles of justice, and demonstrate a systematic targeting of those who dare to hold the government to account,” Mwananyanda said.
Mawarire rose to prominence last April when he posted a Facebook video of himself wrapped in a Zimbabwean flag, criticizing the state of the country. The video sparked the #ThisFlag protest movement against the government.
Mawarire backed a general strike last July, calling for the Mugabe government to respect human rights and to save Zimbabwe’s ailing economy.
Besides the charge of subversion, which carries a 20-year sentence, Mawarire faces another charge of “insulting the national flag of Zimbabwe” for using it in his videos.
Initially, he was charged with inciting violence, but a court ruled police had violated his rights and released him by changing the charge.
He fled the country soon after.