HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — U.S. critics of Zimbabwe's human rights record "can go and hang on a banana tree," a Zimbabwean official said in comments published Tuesday, while he also indicated that the southern African country is waiting for an overture from the administration of President Donald Trump.
"We are waiting for a cue from a new government," Zimbabwe's state-run Herald newspaper quoted presidential spokesman George Charamba as saying. Charamba also denounced U.S. Ambassador Harry K. Thomas Jr. as "a leftover from a terrible era," an apparent reference to past U.S. administrations that have had testy relations with Zimbabwe's longtime leader, Robert Mugabe.
On Monday, the U.S. Embassy expressed deep concern about what it called the "continuing deterioration" of human rights in Zimbabwe. The American statement followed the arrest last week of Evan Mawarire, a Zimbabwean pastor who launched a popular protest movement on social media dubbed #ThisFlag.
Mawarire was arrested on his return to Zimbabwe after going to the United States last year. He is being charged with subverting a constitutionally elected government and inciting public violence, and Charamba speculated that he is a U.S. agent. A bail hearing will be held Wednesday.
Another Zimbabwean pastor, Patrick Mugadza, has been in detention since Jan. 19 for claiming that Mugabe will die in October this year.
"The U.S. Government unequivocally believes in the basic right to freedom of speech and calls on the Government of Zimbabwe to respect the human rights of all Zimbabwean citizens which are enshrined in the constitution," the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.
"We believe that the basic right of Zimbabweans to freedom of speech — be it in public, through print media, or social media — should be protected within and outside Zimbabwe's borders," it said.
Charamba said Thomas, who was nominated to the ambassador's post during the Obama administration, faces an uncertain future under the Trump administration.
"He thinks he can boss over us," Charamba said of Thomas. "They can go hang on a banana tree."