The authorities in Zimbabwe have arrested popular preacher, change agent, and social media activist Evan Mawarire.
Mawarire was arrested by the police as soon as he landed at Harare airport in Zimbabwe on Wednesday, after more than a six month absence from the country, reports BBC. He has been accused of subverting a constitutional government, a charge which he denies.
Eyewitnesses say Mawarire was put in handcuffs and led away from the airport by a team of policemen.
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Mawarire gained local and international acclaim last April, after he released a video online where he wrapped himself in the Zimbabwean flag and went on a lengthy but lucid tirade about how the government of Zimbabwe had failed its citizens, despite having such immense potentials.
Ultimately, Mawarire urged viewers to take to the streets in non-violent, non-inciting anti-government protest:
The video went viral and authorities took notice. Mawarire was soon arrested and charged with inciting public violence. An allegation of attempting to overthrow the government, which carries a maximum 20-year sentence, was later added to his charges, although his lawyers successfully argued against it. They pointed out that the subversion charge was added at the last minute, effectively denying him a fair trial.
Mawarire then went on to lead a successful country wide social media campaign with the hashtag #ThisFlag that condemned the poor management of the Zimbabwean economy under President Robert Mugabe.
In July, Mawarire lent his support to a massive stay-at-home strike, which turned out to be one of the largest anti-government protests in Zimbabwe in years. Mawarire later fled Zimbabwe, saying he feared for his life after criticizing the country’s leadership.
“The president of Zimbabwe made comments to the effect that I was not welcome in Zimbabwe, but he doesn’t get to make that decision for me. I have not committed a crime, I’m not a fugitive, I’m a citizen, and an upstanding citizen for that matter. You can never be 100 percent safe.
“But I think the amount of work that’s been done over the last couple of months, the different recognition from different platforms and the galvanizing of many Zimbabweans that has taken place, for me is a very important constituent for safety.”
He also maintained that he believed politics remained the most effective means of contributing to his country’s development.
“The more I think about the options, the steps going forward, I realize you can only shout about potholes for so long. You start to realize where change comes from. So at some point we have to start saying that for those that have the ability, the passion, or the buy-in from the people, it may be time to throw your hat in.”