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Zimbabwe: Pastor Evan Mawarire must be immediately and unconditionally released

Arrested upon return to Zimbabwe, prominent anti-corruption and human rights defender Pastor Evan Mawarire must be immediately and unconditionally released, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (an FIDH-OMCT partnership) says today.

On February 1, 2017, Pastor Evan Mawarire was charged by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) with "subverting a constitutional government"[1]. The ZRP claims that the cleric has been "inciting Zimbabweans from allwalks of life either locally or internationally to revolt and overthrow a constitutionally elected government". That includes allegations that Pastor Evan Mawarire has incited some Zimbabweans living in the USA and "all over the world" through social media to converge in New York on September 22, 2016 to "confront" President Mugabe, who was attending the United Nations General Assembly and order him to "immediately" resign from his position accusing him of destroying the country.

"Authorities were clearly waiting for Pastor Evan Mawarire's return to continue harassing him. He cannot set foot in his own country without being arrested, that says a lot about the situation of those who dare to denounce corruption and human rights violations in Zimbabwe," said Arnold Tsunga, FIDH Vice President.

Pastor Evan Mawarire, who has been on self-imposed exile to the United States for the past seven months, led last year's #ThisFlag protests[2] which encouraged Zimbabweans via social media to hold protests against President Robert Mugabe, accusing him of corruption and causing the economic crisis.

As a result, in July 2016, Pastor Evan Mawarire was arrested and charged with "inciting public violence". The public prosecutor then altered the charges to "attempting to overthrow a constitutional government". However, the Harare Magistrate Vakai Chikwekwe ruled that ZRP officers had violated his constitutional rights in arresting and detaining him and that the prosecutor acted in violation of the Constitution by bringing new charges against Pastor Evan Mawarire while in court.

President Mugabe himself publicly attacked Pastor Evan Mawarire accusing him of being a "great shame" and a "disgrace" for "allowing himself to demonstrate against the country".

"Leading peaceful protests aiming at exposing bad governance which affects the rights of the population is nowhere close to constituting a crime. Pastor Evan Mawarire should be immediately and unconditionally released," concluded Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

[1]Section 22 (2) (a) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, Chapter 9:23.

[2]The #ThisFlag movement started after Pastor Evan Mawarire posted a video on Facebook in which he appeared with the Zimbabwean flag around his neck and denounced the country's worsening economic crisis.

Distributed by APO on behalf of International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).
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