Zimbabwe pastor who led protests is arrested on return home

AP News
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Posted: Feb 01, 2017 1:57 PM
Zimbabwe pastor who led protests is arrested on return home

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — The Zimbabwe pastor who fled to the United States after launching the popular #ThisFlag protest movement has been arrested on his return home, his lawyer said Wednesday.

Evan Mawarire was picked up at Harare International Airport, lawyer Harrison Nkomo told The Associated Press. He said Mawarire has been charged with subverting a constitutionally elected government and likely will spend the night in detention.

Police spokeswoman Charity Charamba said Mawarire was picked up on an outstanding arrest warrant.

"He skipped the country, but as you know, going to America was never going to wash away his crimes. We were waiting for him to return," Charamba said.

Mawarire last year rallied Zimbabweans via social media to hold protests against the government of longtime President Robert Mugabe, who turns 93 this month and is the world's oldest current head of state.

Amnesty International's deputy regional director for southern Africa, Muleya Mwananyanda, called the charge against Mawarire "absolutely ridiculous and a total sham," saying it was meant to "punish him for speaking out about the declining human rights situation."

It was not immediately clear why Mawarire had chosen to return home. 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.

Before he left Zimbabwe, Mawarire was detained and initially charged with inciting public violence before prosecutors changed the charges to attempting to overthrow a constitutionally elected government. A magistrate freed the pastor after ruling that it was unconstitutional for prosecutors to bring the fresh charges in court.

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