Cape Town – Human rights group Amnesty International has condemned the arrest of Zimbabwean pastor Evan Mawarire, one of the organisers of recent protests calling for a change of government in the country.
In a statement on Tuesday, the group described Mawarire's arrest as an attempt to suppress freedom of expression.
Mawarire was arrested on Tuesday morning.
He has been charged with inciting public violence.
Amnesty International's deputy director for southern Africa, Muleya Mwananyanda, said that Mawarire’s arrest was a calculated move by the embattled Zimbabwean government to intimidate activists who spoke out against President Robert Mugabe.
"The arrest of Pastor Evan Mawarire appears to be a well calculated plan to intimidate him and other activists ahead of the national shutdown organised for tomorrow (Wednesday) in an attempt to suppress the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly," said Mwananyanda.
Mawarire shot to instant fame after he posted a video of himself on Facebook in April venting against state corruption and the government's failure to provide basic services.
In the video Mawarire was wearing a Zimbabwean flag which instantaneously spawned the hashtag #ThisFlag movement which has become a unifying symbol for the protesters.
Social media was abuzz soon after Mawarire's arrest, with people from all walks of life calling for his immediate release.
See the tweets below.
A Zimbabwean poet has since created a song calling for the pastor's freedom.
The song was in one of the country's main languages, Shona.
Protests in Zimbabwe began about two weeks ago following the government's move to ban imported basic commodities. They saw protesters vandalising government buildings and road signs in the border town of Beitbridge
Taxi drivers followed with another protest against the police, who they accused of extorting cash from motorists.
A few days later, the country was hit by a national "shutdown", which saw business, shops and schools closing down. Public transport, as well as government departments and courts, also ceased to function.
Another national shutdown was planned for Wednesday and Thursday this week, with the police, however, warning of a crackdown.
You know your country is screwed when the police put more effort and emphasis in finding a helmet than finding US$15Billion #FreePastorEvan
— Steven Thomas (@manstavo) July 12, 2016
- News 24