The lead spokesman of #ThisFlag in Zimbabwe, Evan Mawarire, was released on Wednesday after he had been arrested on Tuesday on charges of treason.
The 39-year old Harare-based pastor started the social movement after spontaneously posting a video of himself expressing his frustration with the socio-economic situation in Zimbabwe, and the government’s inability to remedy the situation.
His act inspired other movements such as #tajamuka which means “we have rebelled” and #shutdownzimbabwe2016, a protest against Mugabe’s economic policies.
These groups, working along with the youth, pressure groups, and other organizations and have inspired resistance to the Zimbabwe authorities which have been known to subdue opposition with the use of violence.
The #ThisFlag campaign demands that the Mugabe-led government should “Fire corrupt cabinet ministers, Remove police road blocks, Pay civil servants on time, Abandon the bond notes, Lift the import ban.”
Mr. Mugabe’s government has been met with widespread opposition over the appointment of cabinet ministers who are involved in corruption, the presence of police road blocks, due salaries unpaid, the failed economy, as well as the restricted importation of key commodities for informal traders.
Contrary to popular opinion that Twitter played a major role in their success, these movements have relied largely on the use of messaging services like SMS, Facebook, and Whatsapp in mobilizing people for their demonstrations. They have also relied on traditional face-to-face communication, such as civil servants’ union, according to activists speaking with reporters.
Mr. Mawarire was charged with “inciting public protests.” At his court appearance, the police laid claims that he attempted to overthrow Mr. Mugabe, according to the charge sheet.
The magistrate dismissed the charges against the pastor, saying that by changing the charges the state arrested Pastor Mawarire unconstitutionally. He, therefore, had no case to answer.
His release was widely celebrated by the cheering crowd that had gathered outside the court singing and praying for his release.
Mr. Mawarire’s lawyer, Harrison Nkomo, said, “He (Mawarire) was not advised of the subversion charges before he was brought to court. He was not properly brought before the court … that’s why the magistrate refused remand.”
According to Reuters, the human rights group Amnesty International said the pastor’s arrest was a deliberate attempt to intimidate activists with hopes of deterring them from proceeding with the protests on July 13.
In his remark, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa, Muleya Mwananyanda, stated, “Instead of suppressing dissenting voices, Zimbabwean authorities should be listening to protesters like Evan Mawarire.”
Zimbabwe has been rocked by massive protests against the sitting President Robert Mugabge and his regime’s failed economic policies and increasingly repressive political acts.