HARARE (Reuters) – Armed Zimbabwean police arrested a political activist at his home on Wednesday, his lawyer said, on the third day of protests against fuel price hikes as businesses and schools stayed closed and mobile networks enforced a government internet shutdown.
Evan Mawarire, a pastor who rose to prominence as a critic of former leader Robert Mugabe, was bundled into the back seat of a truck by about a dozen heavily armed police. He was to be charged with inciting public violence, said lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, who witnessed the arrest along with a Reuters cameraman.
Wednesday is the third and final day of a national strike called in response to a steep rise in fuel prices decreed by President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Three people including a police officer died during violent demonstrations on Monday.
Zimbabweans accuse Mnangagwa of failing to live up to pre-election pledges to kick-start growth and make a clean break from the 37-year rule of Mugabe, who was forced out in a de facto coup in November 2017.
Since then, Zimbabweans have seen a familiar pattern of dollar shortages battering the economy, rocketing inflation that is destroying the value of their savings and the government reacting forcefully to crush dissent.
Mawarire rose to prominence in 2016 when he launched a social media movement – #ThisFlag – to get Zimbabweans to rally round the national flag and speak out against Mugabe policies the pastor blamed for high unemployment, widespread corruption and delays in getting salaries.
He was acquitted in 2017 on charges of public violence and disorderly conduct.
Writing by John Stonestreet; editing