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Rights groups slam charges against Zim pastor

12 July 2016, 16:12News24 Correspondent

Harare - "These charges are baseless."

That was the reaction of one of Zimbabwe's best-known human rights lawyers, David Coltart, on hearing that Evan Mawarire, the pastor who has led calls for peaceful stayaways in the troubled southern African country, had been charged on Tuesday with inciting public violence.

Though he had said he hoped he was reporting to the police for routine questioning, Mawarire, 39, knew all too well what was likely to happen.

In a video the father of two had prepared for release in the event of his arrest, Mawarire said: "No matter what has happened to me, you and I have done well... Hold this government to account." The video was posted to his #ThisFlag organisation's social media platforms after the charges against him were confirmed by state media.

Watch the video below. 

Mawarire and others have called for another stay away across Zimbabwe on Wednesday and Thursday, following the success of a nationwide strike against government corruption and an import ban last week. 

Pictures of the pastor in handcuffs were posted to Twitter by lunchtime, following reports that police had searched his home and office. The pictures show Mawarire with a flag and with a photo of his wife and children in the background. 

A church mug with a cross on it is in the foreground.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights confirmed police had taken the pastor's phone.

News of the charges against Mawarire sparked outrage online, fuelled no doubt by memories of what had happened to other critics of President Robert Mugabe's government in the past 16 years.
Itai Dzamara, a former journalist who mounted lonely protests in central Harare calling on Mugabe, now 92, to step down, was abducted in March 2015 and has never been seen again. 

Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, was beaten by police in 2007 when his party tried to circumvent a ban on demonstrations by holding a "prayer rally."

Coltart, who served as education minister during Zimbabwe's 2009-13 coalition government, said in tweets: "Everything Pastor Evan has said has been compliant with section 58 of the Constitution - these charges are baseless."

"He has had a consistent message of non-violence."

Shingi Munyeza, a prominent businessman and church leader who has also led efforts to try to engage Mugabe's government amid mounting frustration in Zimbabwe said in a tweet: "As a fellow pastor I plead with the authorities to #freepastorevan." Mawarire's sister, Teldah Mawarire, retweeted calls for him to be freed.


Human rights lawyers announced that an opposition lawmaker had also been summoned by police. It is thought to be Thabitha Khumalo, who has reportedly been helping organise a #beatthepot protest by women against the government, scheduled for Saturday.

In other developments on Tuesday, pressure group Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) claimed police had imposed an unofficial 18:00 to 06:00 curfew in Bulawayo and were moving around with megaphones to inform residents of this.

Police spokesperson Charity Charamba told state media that there was a possibility that a leaked video showing Zimbabwe riot police hitting people on the soles of their feet might have been "manufactured by perpetrators of violence". 

The covertly-filmed clip, thought to date from recent protests, has sparked disgust on social media and Charamba's comments were greeted with outrage on Tuesday. Media watchdog @ZimMediaReview said the claim was "incredible".

- News24


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