A Zimbabwe court has released on bail four people facing charges of undermining the authority of President Robert Mugabe after his powerful wife was jeered at a rally.
Three men and a woman were arrested after attending a ruling ZANU-PF party rally in the country’s second city Bulawayo where Grace Mugabe was heckled while addressing the crowd last Saturday.
“There is no compelling reason for denying the accused their rights,” said magistrate Franklin Mkhwananzi, ordering them back to court on November 24.
They were freed on $50 bail each and barred from attending a forthcoming presidential rally in Harare, whose date is yet to be announced.
According to the Herald newspaper, prosecutor Jerry Mutsindikwa had on Thursday told the court that “the quartet, with others allegedly sang the song Into oyenzayo siyayizonda” – whose lyrics in Ndebele mean “we hate what you are doing” – while Grace addressed the rally.
The incident angered President Mugabe, 93, who addressed the rally shortly after his wife, accusing his deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa of organising and sponsoring the hecklers.
He vowed to fire Mnangagwa, which he did two days later, in a dramatic move that appeared to open the way for his wife to succeed him in office.
Grace Mugabe could be appointed as one of the country’s two vice-presidents at the party congress next month.
Mnangagwa who had been touted as an obvious successor to Mugabe, fled into exile this week.
His whereabouts are unknown.
The arrest of the four ZANU-PF activists came as the Zimbabwe high court on Thursday granted bail to Martha O’Donovan, a 25-year-old American journalist charged with charged with insulting Mugabe and attempting to subvert the regime on account of an alleged tweet that described the ageing leader as “selfish and sick”.
Judge Clement Phiri ruled on Thursday that there was a “patent absence of facts” in the state’s case against O’Donovan.
Reuters witnesses saw O’Donovan leaving prison in a United States embassy vehicle.
O’Donovan and her lawyers did not speak to reporters waiting outside Chikurubi Maximum Prison on the outskirts of Harare.
The government has since last year been targeting activists and government critics who use social media to speak out against Mugabe, cash shortages in banks and a foreign currency crunch that has caused a sharp rise in prices.
Amnesty International has said that it feared O’Donovan would not be the last to be arrested in the government’s “clamp down on social media platforms”.
Activist pastor Evan Mawarire, whose #ThisFlag movement last year organised the biggest stay-at-home demonstration in a decade, is on trial on a charge of subversion.
He faces a separate trial for a similar offence.
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