The United States Embassy in Harare says it is extremely concerned by the arrest of Pastor Evan Mawarire of #ThisFlag, who was detained by the police Wednesday and locked up at the Law and Order Section of Harare Police Station soon after he arrived in the country after a six-month stay in America.
In a message posted on its Facebook page, the embassy called for the immediate release of the minister of religion, who mobilized Zimbabweans last year to engage in public protests calling for an end to the country’s economic decay and human rights violations.
The embassy said, “Pastor Evan is a citizen of Zimbabwe and should be allowed to live freely in his home country. We unequivocally believe in the basic right to freedom of speech and call on the Government of Zimbabwe to respect and to protect the human rights of all Zimbabwean citizens which are enshrined in the constitution.”
There was no immediate government reaction on these remarks as presidential spokesperson, George Charamba was not reacheable.
Mawarire used the Zimbabwean flag to appeal to locals to stage protests against the government’s lack of action on addressing the deteriorating social and economic situation.
Mawarire is facing charges of attempting to remove a constitutionally-elected government.
He left the country for USA claiming that his life was in danger. His family is still in the USA.
In a related development, opposition political parties, civic society organizations and others, also condemned Mawarire’s arrest saying he did not break the law.
In a statement, the Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai said, “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.”
Party leader Morgan Tsvangirai further noted that “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.”
He said the arrest should 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.”
At the same time, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) also condemned the arrest of Pastor Mawarire saying it was a continuation of the “undue victimisation and harassment of the cleric and human rights activist which is a gross violation of his human rights by the government of Zimbabwe.
“Mawarire as a bona fide citizen of Zimbabwe has a constitutional right to return safely to his country of birth without infringement of his rights by state security institutions. As far as ZimRights is concerned, the harassment of Mawarire is not merely meant to intimidate him alone, but all those speaking out their thoughts about the economic and political governance situation of the country in line with their right to freedom of expression.”
ZimRights said Mawarire’s peaceful actions as leader of #ThisFlag movement have always been within the confines of the law, and there should be an end to further harassment of the cleric.
Another non-governmental organization, Heal Zimbabwe, strongly condemned the arrest, noting that it was a violation of a citizen’s fundamental human rights that are provided for in the constitution.
“In November 2016, during the United Nations Human Rights Council periodic review in Switzerland, Government assured the council that its human rights record had significantly improved which seems contrary to this incident.”
A religious group, The Christian Voice Zimbabwe, noted that Zimbabweans like Mawarire have a right to stage public protests.
Director Tapfumaneyi Clement Zenda said ministers of religion are not only supposed to stick to the pulpit as they are allowed to speak about issues of injustice and human rights violations.
“We therefore implore the authorities to observe citizens’ rights and respect the supreme law of the land. We also encourage government to align the laws to the constitution in order for citizens to enjoy their full liberties.
“Such acts of subversion of human rights in this case specifically on men of the cloth pose a danger of destabilizing the good working relationship of the church in Zimbabwe and the government of the day. We therefore recommend the authorities to proceed by way of negotiations as opposed to heavy handedness.”