HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwean police arrested activist pastor Evan Mawarire of the #ThisFlag movement as he stepped down from his pulpit, accusing him of subversion for a series of social media posts that charged Robert Mugabe’s government had wrecked the economy, his lawyer told Reuters on Sunday.
Lawyer Harrison Nkomo said Mawarire was arrested and charged with subversion, which carries a maximum term of life imprisonment, for a Facebook video he posted on Saturday lambasting the government over its economic policies.
Over the last few days, shortages of basic goods and fuel have emerged, resulting in panic buying by consumers. Prices of imported products are also going up, which businesses blame on shortages of foreign exchange.
Mawarire has been at the heart of a protest movement against Mugabe’s 37-year rule. In 2016, he led a stay-at-home demonstration that resulted in the first of his now three arrests for what the state says are attempts to overthrow the government.
Mawarire was already due to face trial of subversion over the 2016 protests at a High Court trial on Monday.
“He is due to appear in court tomorrow on subversion charges emanating from last year. So we really don’t know how the state will proceed,” said Nkomo.
Press and social media reports, including Mawarire’s post, on shortages of basic goods and foreign exchange were meant to cause alarm in the country, said Ignatius Chombo, minister of home affairs, the ministry in charge of the police, said in a statement.
“Government is closely monitoring the press and social media reports in question with a view to taking decisive action to deal a telling blow to the perpetrators of the crime in terms of the laws of the country’s justice system,” Chombo said.
A statement on the website of the United States embassy in Harare published on Friday said it would be monitoring the pastor’s trial, and called for “an end to arbitrary arrests and intimidation for political purposes.”
Mugabe, 93, has held power since independence from Britain in 1980. He is under mounting pressure from angry Zimbabweans, as well as his war veterans allies, who last year rebuked him as a manipulative dictator and called for him to step down.
Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Writing by Mfuneko Toyana; Editing by Larry King