HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwean police arrested activist pastor Evan Mawarire of the #ThisFlag movement as he stepped down from his pulpit, accusing him of subversion for a series of social media posts that charged Robert Mugabe’s government had wrecked the economy, his lawyer told Reuters on Sunday.
Lawyer Harrison Nkomo said Mawarire was arrested and charged with subversion, which carries a maximum term of life imprisonment, for a Facebook video he posted on Saturday lambasting the government over its economic policies.
Over the last few days, shortages of basic goods and fuel have started to emerge, resulting in panic buying by consumers. Prices of imported products are also going up, which businesses blame on shortages of foreign exchange.
Mawarire has been at the heart of a protest movement against Mugabe’s 37-year rule. In 2016, he led a stay-at-home demonstration that resulted in the first of his now three arrests for what the state says are attempts to overthrow the government.
Mawarire was already due to face charges of subversion over the 2016 protests at a High Court trial on Monday.
“He is due to appear in court tomorrow on subversion charges emanating from last year. So we really don’t know how the state will proceed,” said Nkomo.
Justice and police officials did not respond to requests for information on the arrest.
A statement on the website of the United States embassy published on Friday said it would be monitoring the pastor’s trial, and called for “an end to arbitrary arrests and intimidation for political purposes.”
Mugabe, 92, and in power since independence from Britain in 1980, has come under mounting pressure from angry Zimbabweans, as well as his war veterans allies, who last year rebuked him as a manipulative dictator and called for him to step down.