A pastor's judicial case in Zimbabwe has been referred to the High Court after a lower court ruled that a charge of trying to subvert President Robert Mugabe's government was a serious offense.
Magistrate Elisha Singano told Pastor Evan Mawarire that the charge of trying to topple a constitutionally elected government was a “Third Schedule Offense” and a bail application could be filed only at the High Court.
Mawarire's attorney, Harrison Nkomo, of the nonprofit Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, argued in court Friday that his client had not committed any offense by calling on Mugabe to resign for failing to respect human rights and arrest an ailing economy.
“What we were doing at magistrate [court] level was to argue that the facts on the state papers as they appear do not disclose an offense, and resultantly, the detention becomes unlawful and must be released, which the court disagreed with,” Nkomo said.
Video sparks protest
Unless the High Court grants Mawarire bail, he will remain in jail and return to court on February 17, when he is expected to be given a trial date.
He was arrested Wednesday at Harare International Airport upon arrival in Zimbabwe after spending about six months in exile in the United States.
The pastor rose to prominence last April when he posted a Facebook video of himself wrapped in a Zimbabwean flag and criticizing the state of the country. The video sparked the #ThisFlag protest movement against the government.
Last July, Mawarire backed a general strike calling for the Mugabe government to respect human rights and to save the ailing economy.
Zimbabwe is home
On Friday, he appeared unsurprised by the ruling. After his arrest, he explained the reasons for returning home.
"Unfortunately, I have been arrested again,” Mawarire said. “We will get through this. But this is home for me, Zimbabwe is. I have committed no crime and I am allowed to come home.”
Following the protests last year, Mawarire was arrested and charged with the same charge of trying to subvert Mugabe's government. Initially, the charge was inciting public violence, but a court ruled police had violated his rights and released him by changing the charge.
Mawarire fled the country soon afterward.