Zimbabwe on Monday put on trial an activist pastor accused of attempting to subvert the government, following 2016 protests against President Robert Mugabe’s handling of the economy. The charge carries up to 20 years imprisonment on conviction. Evan Mawarire, through his #ThisFlag movement, led a stay-at-home demonstration in 2016, the biggest protest in a decade, via a social media campaign that urged citizens to speak out against economic problems and government failure to pay workers.
Mawarire was arrested again for subversion on Sunday as he stepped down from his pulpit after police accused him of circulating social media posts that accused the government of wrecking the economy. Appearing in maroon slacks at the High Court, the clergyman pleaded not guilty to two charges of subverting the government and two charges of inciting public violence. The latter carries a penalty of up to 10 years in jail. State prosecutor, Chris Mtungadura, said social media posts by Mawarire in 2016 were meant to incite the population to overthrow the government.
The state has lined up eight witnesses. “He was exercising his constitutional rights of challenging the policies of government. This … was done in a lawful manner,” defence lawyer Harrison Nkomo told the court. In 2009, the government adopted the U.S. dollar as its official currency, alongside the British sterling and South African rand, which helped to stabilise prices. But the U.S. dollar has disappeared from banks and on Monday, buying 100 dollars on the streets through bank transfer cost 150 dollars, up from 133 dollars a week ago, in a sign that dollar bank balances are fast losing value. Mugabe, 93, has held power since Zimbabwe won independence from Britain in 1980 and critics accuse him of using the security forces to crack down on dissent.