HARARE, ZIMBABWE - Police in Zimbabwe have arrested a pastor after he posted several messages on social media, calling on people to protest police brutality and some of the government’s economic measures.
Evan Mawarire was arrested Tuesday ahead of a planned two-day protest, which the clergyman has been promoting with the hashtag #SHUTDOWNZIMBABWE.
Mawarire is increasingly known in the country as “This Flag Pastor”; he constantly wears a Zimbabwean flag around his neck and uses the popular “#ThisFlag” Twitter hashtag.
His campaign is supported by a group calling itself "Tajamuka/Isijikile" – Shona for “we have revolted.” It also is calling on Zimbabweans to strike beginning Wednesday.
In an interview, Harrison Nkomo of the group Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said Mawarire has been charged with inciting violence and disturbing the peace, based on videos he has been posting on social media. The police searched Mawarire’s home and church building, Nkomo said Tuesday.
A search warrant was issued by a magistrate Tuesday morning, Nkomo said. "They are looking for subversive material. I am glad to announce that after the search of the church and his premises, nothing of that sort was found.”
A series of demonstrations since late last month have been staged against President Robert Mugabe, otherwise rare during the leader’s 36-year rule. They started on Zimbabwe’s border with South Africa, after Harare restricted imposed restrictions on imports of basic commodities.
Before his arrest, Mawarire posted to social media a video in which he said his detention must not deter Zimbabweans from taking part in the demonstrations.
"What we have to do is to break fear,” he said in the video, outlining five demands for the Zimbabwe government: Fire corrupt ministers. Pay civil servants on time. End police brutality. Don’t issue bond notes. Don’t ban imports of basic commodities.
Protests have spread to other areas, including Harare and the second-biggest city, Bulawayo. The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights group said it has represented more than 300 citizens who marched in the protests.
On Tuesday, the rights group said it was bracing for more arrests with this week’s rallies.