Zimbabwean protest leader Evan Mawarire was remanded in custody by a court in Harare on Friday after police arrested him on charges of subverting the government and inciting public violence.
Mawarire, an evangelical pastor, started the popular “This Flag” protest movement last year, becoming a figurehead of opposition to veteran President Robert Mugabe’s regime.
He was detained at Harare airport as he returned to the country on Wednesday after fleeing in July in fear for his life when Mugabe publicly denounced him.
Magistrate Elisha Singano remanded Mawarire in custody until February 17 and said he could apply for bail at the high court.
Zimbabwe security forces cracked down last year after internet activism by the “This Flag” movement led to a series of anti-government protests and work strikes.
“He (Mawarire) urged all Zimbabweans not to go to work and revolt against the government,” Edmore Nyazamba, the public prosecutor, told the court after reading out the charges. “There were violent demonstrations in the country where several properties were damaged.”
Nyazamba said Mawarire had also asked overseas Zimbabweans to converge in New York to confront Mugabe during the UN General Assembly.
The prosecutor asked the court for Mawarire to be held in custody as the police finalise investigations.
“The totality of the accusations do not in any way establish a crime,” Harrison Nkomo, Mawarire’s lawyer said.
Mawarire, who appeared in court in hand-cuffs and carrying a Bible, is expected to apply for bail tomorrow.
The national flag became a symbol of anti-government protests after Mawarire, a little-known pastor, posted a Facebook video in which he had the flag wound around his neck as he deplored the country’s worsening economic crisis.
“We will not allow the government of this country to keep on oppressing us, intimidating us and incarcerating us for speaking out,” Linda Masarira, a rights activist, told reporters outside the court. “They have to release Pastor Evan.”
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