A Zimbabwean pastor, whose social media protest campaign went viral, mobilising thousands of Zimbabweans, has been acquitted of treason, which carries a maximum sentence of twenty years, and released.
Pastor Evan Mawarire posted a video on 19 April in which he shared his frustrations about his country referring to the Zimbabwean flag draped around his neck.
The video, under the #ThisFlag motto, was soon viewed by tens of thousands and some fellow social media users posted pictures of themselves wrapped in the flag on his Facebook page.
Pastor Mawarire was arrested on 12 July, initially charged with inciting public violence, even though he had called on Zimbabweans to take a peaceful stand against unemployment and corruption.
Thousands of people congregated the following day before the court in which Mawarire was tried. Ben Freeth, a Barnabas Fund partner, described the scene: “The court room became a church with people singing and praying. Riot police with guns and water cannons were everywhere but everyone was peaceful.”
The original charge was changed to treason on the day of the trial. This allowed Mawarire’s lawyers to argue successfully that the changed charge denied him a fair trial.
Freeth continued that when the magistrate told Mawarire was free to go, “a great cry of jubilation went up. People were dancing and singing and crying and hugging each other. It was a truly historic victory.”
Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980, has been responsible with his regime for widespread human rights violations in Zimbabwe.
Many of Zimbabwe’s Christians, especially those who speak out for justice and righteousness, face great pressure under the regime of Robert Mugabe and the ruling ZANU-PF.
Last December, pastor Patrick Magadza was arrested and charged with criminal nuisance after holding up a placard with the words “Mr President, the people are suffering. Proverbs 21:13” outside a luxury hotel where Mr Mugabe was staying. With the help of human rights lawyers, pastor Magadza was released in January.