Zimbabwe protest pastor to remain in custody before trial

AP News
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Posted: Feb 03, 2017 11:08 AM

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — The Zimbabwe pastor who launched the popular #ThisFlag protest movement will remain in custody after a magistrate decided Friday there is enough evidence to suspect he committed a crime.

Evan Mawarire faces a 20-year sentence if convicted of subverting a constitutionally elected government. He stands trial Feb. 17.

"Thank you, guys. Don't worry. Justice will be served," Mawarire said to a handful of supporters as he left the courthouse under guard for jail.

He was arrested this week upon his return to Zimbabwe after fleeing to the United States last year.

The government's charges are linked to his role in organizing protests against 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe outside the United Nations during a gathering of world leaders last year.

Mawarire is also accused of using social media to incite "violent demonstrations" in Zimbabwe between August and last month, inciting public violence and insulting the national flag.

Lawyer Harrison Nkomo argued Friday that calling for the resignation of a sitting president is within Mawarire's constitutional rights, as is challenging government policies.

Prosecutor Edmore Nyazamba argued that the pastor should remain in custody until investigations are complete.

Nkomo said he will apply for bail at the High Court on Monday.

The economy of this once-prosperous southern African nation has crashed, and both unemployment and frustration are widespread. Mugabe, the world's oldest head of state, has said Mawarire and others should leave Zimbabwe if they were unhappy with the situation.

It was not immediately clear why Mawarire chose to return home this week. Some in Zimbabwe had criticized him for leaving the country amid the protests. At the time, he said he feared for the security of his family.

Amnesty International has called the charges against him a "total sham."