***UPDATE***: After news of this story went viral globally, the pastor has been released. He said it “wasn’t luck” and that it was “God! Period!” that rescued him. Here’s his full reaction. Read the original report:
An activist pastor, who has been a prominent critic of Zimbabwe’s longtime president, is facing up to 20 years behind bars after the government accused him of subversion.
His crime? Posting this video:
Im not going to sit around and just let it happen all over again. Things are getting worse and we are the ones suffering. Please people of Zimbabwe let's save our nation
Posted by Evan Mawarire on Saturday, September 23, 2017
Zimbabwean pastor Evan Mawarire is the man in the video, and he stepped down from his pulpit as police arrested him again on Sunday, after he posted this along with several other videos on social media that showed long lines of people waiting for fuel.
In the videos, Mawarire lambasted the regime of 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe for not addressing the economic issues affecting the once-prosperous southern African nation. The clergyman called on fellow Zimbabweans to peacefully protest against the gas shortages and sudden price hikes across the country.
“Our government needs to be serious,” Mawarire said in a video posted Saturday. “You guys are going to have to stop this nonsense; it’s killing us. You’re destroying our lives, you’re destroying our future and we can’t continue on like this.”
“We must do something about this,” he appealed to Zimbabweans in the video. “We cannot just sit back. I’m not going to just let this happen.”
The pastor then quoted Proverbs 11:10: “When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy.”
“Let’s have hope in each other,” Mawarire said. “God bless you. As a pastor, I pray for this country”
Appearing at the High Court of Zimbabwe on Monday, Mawarire pleaded not guilty to two charges of subverting the government and two charges of inciting public violence, which were linked to his anti-government campaigns earlier this year. He is slated to appear in court again on Tuesday regarding Sunday’s charges, according to CNN.
Zimbabwean state prosecutor Chris Mtungadura, who has lined up eight witnesses, argued that Mawarire’s social media posts last year were meant to incite people to overthrow the government.
Mawarire’s defense lawyer, Harrison Nkomo said his client was acting “in a lawful manner,” according to Reuters.
“He was exercising his constitutional rights of challenging the policies of government,” Nkomo told the court on Monday.
Mawarire’s social media campaign, #ThisFlag, gained steam in 2016 after the pastor draped himself in Zimbabwe’s flag and urged the government to address rampant corruption and the failing economy. His videos helped spark the largest protest to take place in the country in several years.
Fearing for his life, Mawarire fled to the United States last year after his involvement in demonstrations. When he returned to Harare in February, the husband and father was immediately arrested and charged with subversion, according to CNN.
— #ThisFlag E Mawarire (@PastorEvanLive) March 24, 2017
Zimbabwe’s financial woes have been exacerbated in recent years due to international sanctions over the government’s alleged electoral fraud and human right’s abuses. First as prime minister, then president, Mugabe is the only leader Zimbabwe has known since independence. He secured his seventh term as president in 2013 in a hotly disputed vote amid claims of election fraud.
Over the years, Mugabe’s regime has been accused of political violence, wrongfully arresting opposition and civil society activists, unlawfully evicting scores of residents and suppressing basic freedoms, among other things, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.