Harare – Zimbabwean police have charged activist pastor Evan Mawarire with subverting the government, a crime which carries up to 20 years in jail on conviction, after violent protests this week left three dead and scores injured, according to news website Bulawayo24.com.
Mawarire was arrested by armed police at his home on Wednesday and initially charged with the lesser crime of inciting public violence after he circulated Facebook videos encouraging Zimbabweans to heed a stay-at-home strike called by the country’s biggest labour union.
A spokesman for Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, whose lawyers are representing Mawarire and more than 130 others, said police had decided to upgrade the pastor’s charges, delaying his appearance in court.
A doctors’ group said on Thursday they had treated nearly 70 people for gunshot wounds while police rounded up hundreds after the protests, which were triggered by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s decision to steeply raise fuel prices.
“Armed police surrounded his residence,” his sister Teldah Mawarire told AFP. “I was directly in contact with him until he was taken and he could no longer be online. We are very concerned.”
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Police and soldiers have been accused of indiscriminately dragging people from their houses in Harare and beating them.
State security Minister Owen Ncube said more than 600 people had been arrested in connection with “riotous acts”. About 70 appeared in court in Harare on Wednesday when they were remanded in custody.
Mawarire became a prominent voice during the protests of 2016 when he posted videos on social media criticising the government while wearing a Zimbabwean flag around his neck.
His posts inspired the ThisFlag movement that led mass protests against Robert Mugabe, the long-time president who was ousted in 2017 after a military takeover.
Mawarire, who was holding a Zimbabwean flag as he was taken away on Wednesday, has also been a fierce critic of Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s successor
By Africafrique and agencies