Zimbabwean protest leader arrested ahead of strike

Preacher Mawarire, who started a campaign against government, has been arrested for "inciting public violence".

    The 'stay away' from work action closed businesses across Zimbabwe last week. It was the biggest strike since 2005 [EPA]
    The 'stay away' from work action closed businesses across Zimbabwe last week. It was the biggest strike since 2005 [EPA]

    A Zimbabwean protest leader has been charged with inciting public violence, but still urged supporters to go ahead with demonstrations and strike against President Robert Mugabe.

    Baptist preacher Evan Mawarire was arrested and charged on Tuesday with "inciting public violence and disturbing peace", his lawyer Harrison Nkomo told the Reuters news agency.

    Nkomo said police had raided his client's home, office and church in the capital, Harare. 

    READ MORE: Zimbabwe's season of rising discontent

    Mawarire started a social media campaign against the government last April, tapping into public anger over corruption, high unemployment and economic woes.

    Mawarire has recorded a series of online videos, urging Zimbabweans to reject the government's proposed economic measures as the country faces the risk of a recession.

    After initially ignoring his grainy videos calling for demonstrations and strikes, Mugabe's administration started to push back, especially after the videos attracted support from thousands of civil servants whose salaries have not been paid.

    Mawarire still urged supporters to go ahead with demonstrations and a strike against Mugabe [Reuters]

    Mawarire said on Tuesday he broke no law while calling for a one-day strike last week. The "stay away" from work action closed businesses across the southern African nation, the biggest strike since 2005.

    A copy of a search warrant seen by Reuters said police believed Mawarire was in possession of a stolen police helmet, button stick and "other subversive material" that could be used to incite public violence.

    'Protests will continue'

    #ThisFlag, the opposition protest group led by Mawarire, has vowed to go ahead with a two-day "stay away" from work action despite the arrest of the leader.

    Henry Munangatire, a group spokesman speaking to Al Jazeera, said #ThisFlag was surprised by the arrest and hoped Mawarire's lawyers could get him released.

    READ MORE: Zimbabwe shuts down in protest over 'economic collapse'

    "We are shocked and perplexed by the charges because our movement has always preached non-violence. In his videos, Evan has always called for peaceful protests, but now we see how things work in this country," he said.

    "We are going ahead [with our protests] as the government has ignored our demands. In his videos Pastor Evan has always said we should continue even if he gets arrested, so we have to do this," Munangatire added.

    The law under which the 39-year-old preacher has been detained carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

    Africa's oldest leader at 92, Mugabe has led the former British colony since independence in 1980. The country has been in chronic economic hardship, with a reputation for corruption and rights abuses.

    Additional reporting by Tendai Marima in Harare. Follow her on Twitter @i_amten.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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