Tsvangirai slams Mawarire arrest

HARARE - Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai yesterday savaged the government for arresting activist preacher Pastor Evan Mawarire on Wednesday, warning that this was the beginning of a crackdown by panicking authorities on restless Zimbabweans as the country hurtles towards the crunch 2018 national polls.

This came as police slapped the incarcerated founder of the #ThisFlag movement with an additional charge of abusing the national flag, which prevented the popular preacher from appearing in court yesterday — as President Robert Mugabe’s government cranks up the heat on growing citizen dissent.

At the same time, it also emerged yesterday that police had preferred further charges of inciting public violence against Mawarire, as an alternative to the main and serious allegation of trying to subvert a constitutionally-elected government, which could see him serve up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Mawarire’s lawyer, Harrison Nkomo, confirmed to the Daily News last night that the new charge that his client now also faced had prevented the preacher from appearing in court yesterday, as had been expected.

“We are now likely to go to court tomorrow (today) and he is still at the Harare Central Police Station. This was after they added a new charge and also listed inciting public violence as an alternative to the main charge,” Nkomo said.

On his part, Tsvangirai — the only man to beat Mugabe in an election hands down, in 2008 — described the preacher’s arrest as unacceptable.

“The callous arrest in broad daylight of Pastor Evan Mawarire came as no surprise to those of us who have always known that a leopard remains faithful to its spots.

“This is vintage Zanu PF, and the message coming out of this arrest is that Zanu PF will go for broke in the campaign ahead of the next election.

“The world must brace for impunity and violence against the innocent citizens of our country,” the former prime minister in the government of national unity fumed.

“I condemn in the strongest of terms the impunity against an innocent citizen of Zimbabwe who has committed no crime. If the regime thinks this arrest will cow the people of this country, then we have news for them.

“Zimbabweans will not be intimidated and they will fight for a truly free and fair election in which their voice will count.

“What happened at the Harare International Airport yesterday must send a chilling message, particularly to those in the region and in the broader international community who thought Zanu PF was capable of reform.

“There cannot be reform without reformers and this impunity is a reflection of the true character of Zanu PF. However, we have always been a heroic people and we shall not be cowed,” Tsvangirai added.

Mawarire was arrested on Wednesday evening at the Harare International Airport when he made a surprise return to Zimbabwe from the United States of America where he had been living in self-imposed exile for six months.

The fresh charges that the preacher faces, pertaining to the alleged “abuse’ of the national flag, could see Mawarire facing a fine of $200 and/or two years in jail if convicted.

In September last year, panicking authorities introduced the bizarre law which criminalises certain uses of the national flag, under the Flag of Zimbabwe Act, in what was seen as a desperate bid to clamp down on the #ThisFlag movement.

At the time, the Zimbabwe flag had become a major rallying instrument both at home and internationally, following Mawarire’s resonant patriotism campaign.

He had done this by engaging Zimbabweans while draping the national flag around his body, which stirred deep nationalistic emotions among ordinary citizens who are fed up with the country’s deepening political and economic rot.

“Members of the public who engage in any action or activity which involves the manufacture, sale or use of the national flag in contravention of the law are therefore warned that they are liable to prosecution and are liable to imprisonment if they are found guilty by a court of law,” the Justice ministry’s permanent secretary, Virginia Mabiza, warned last year as the flag movement gathered momentum.

Until his surprise return to Zimbabwe on Wednesday, Mawarire had been living in the US for six months, following his earlier harassment and the savage clampdown on his movement by panicking authorities.

After leaving Zimbabwe, he first relocated to South Africa before he eventually settled temporarily in the United States.

Before then, Mawarire had been arrested on what his lawyers said were trumped up charges that led to his initial contentious detention, allegedly for inciting public violence and stealing a police baton and helmet.

The popular clergyman had at that point helped to organise one of the most successful and peaceful strikes in the history of post-independent Zimbabwe, with long-suffering citizens heeding his call to stay away from work to protest the country’s worsening rot.

Dubbed ‘‘Shutdown’’, the crippling strike forced the panicking Zanu PF government to use excessive force to quell subsequent protests, as Zimbabweans agitated for change.

In his warned and cautioned statement seen by the Daily News, Mawarire says “it is alleged that I insulted the Zimbabwe national flag by using it to brand my politically-motivated criminal activities, and each time when I addressed or incited the public or my followers to revolt against a constitutionally-elected government by urging all workers not to go to work and carry out demonstration, I would wear the Zimbabwe national flag in circumstances which were calculated to show disrespect for the flag or to bring the Zimbabwe national flag into disrespect for the flag(sic) or to bring the national flag into disrepute in contravention of the said Act, make this statement of my own free will”.

Comments (4)

Yes, Save you are doing the very right thing. Sieze the opportunity to tell them all about our civil liberties, constitutional right to express ourselves, need to overhaul ALL aspects of Zimbabwe etc. BUT, BUT... never ever get too close to that Mawarire. Talk from a distance and when you sit with him on the same table use a very very long spoon. Exchange notes with ZimFirst lol

selele - 3 February 2017

Selele, Save and the MDC should not just bark and give useless press statements. They as the biggest opposition, should be challenging some stupid laws like this flag act or whatever they call it. Press statements or rallies are OK but decisive action is also needed

Ziggy Zigawo - 3 February 2017

Thats poor politics and short sighted in all senses. This is not the time for Tsvangirai to display such stupid ignorence, he should work with every political party, be it large or small, all other stake holders. Thats the way forward

nhemacena - 3 February 2017

While I do sympathize with the pastor, I also feel the young man betrayed us his fellow brutalized Zimbabweans. With all that solidarity displaced by Zimbabweans, all those hundreds and of lawyers who had voluntered to represent him free of charge, why did he abandon us? Moses did not abandoned the Israel in Egypt, Pastor Mawarire knows that. I personally knew that supporting his cause was also a danger to me and my family but went out to support him. Everyone who oppose ZanuPF is in danger. The Dailynews Printing Press was BOMBED and forced to close ,did they stop doing their business of reporting news as it is ? If we run away from this tyrant and dictatorship of Mugabe and his ZanuPF then what ? Thomas Mapfumo with due respect should just keep quiet on this issue of fighting Mugabe. He should enjoy his stay in America, accumulating wealth there, the same goes to anyone in the DIASPORA who decides to criticize Zimbabweans suffering from this dictatorship of ZanuPF ADMINISTRATION. Why can't you come back home and vote with us? What is Mapfumo afraid of? We have a lot musicians who are with us in this war. If he is atrue fighter as he claims he should come back home and join others. We were together with him during the war of liberation, suffering together likewise instead of denigrating those in the battlefield,he should come back home and join others. When a person is tired of working with us, he just rest and let his fellow comrades continue. So this the error and mistake Pastor Mawarire made, he took his comrades for granted and abandoned them, thus donating his fellow comrades and relatives to the jaws of beast called ZanuPF. However I will always pray for him to be released as soon as possible because he has no case to answer.

Gandanga - 4 February 2017

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