HARARE – Cleric and #ThisFlag campaign leader, Pastor Evan Mawarire, will spend the next two weeks in prison unless the High Court gives him relief after he was denied bail by a Harare magistrate yesterday.
Magistrate Elisha Singano dismissed Mawarire’s bail application and ruled that there was reasonable suspicion that the popular clergyman may have committed the offences that he stands accused of.
This was after Mawarire was charged by the State for subverting a constitutionally-elected government. If convicted, he could be jailed for up to 20 years.
His lawyer, Harrison Nkomo, immediately gave notice yesterday that he would file for bail at the High Court on Monday.
“It is trite at law that rights to demonstrate are enshrined in the Constitution, but the same Constitution limits the same rights to a certain degree. What is required at this stage is a reasonable suspicion.
“The accused person’s conduct as presented in the form 242 sufficiently links him to the allegations. What is crucial at this stage is for accused person to be placed on remand and allow the State to finalise its investigations.
“Meanwhile, the accused person will be placed in custody and should apply for bail at the High Court because it is a third schedule offence,” Singano said as he dismissed Mawarire’s application to be given bail.
Nkomo had argued that his client had not committed a crime when he exercised his constitutional right of freedom of political opinion and expression.
“An examination of the charge (section 22 (2) (a)) that my client is being charged with clearly demonstrates that my client did not commit a crime. Section 61 of the Constitution guarantees exactly what is being said in here.
“Every citizen has the right to participate in peaceful activities to influence or challenge the policies of government. What is wrong with telling the president of the day to resign?” he argued.
The court did not deliberate on the additional charge of abusing the national flag which Nkomo said had been preferred on Mawarire on Thursday.
These fresh charges that the preacher faces could see Mawarire facing a fine of $200 and/or two years in jail if convicted.
In September last year, panicking authorities introduced the bizarre law which criminalises certain uses of the national flag, under the Flag of Zimbabwe Act, in what was seen as a desperate bid to clamp down on the #ThisFlag movement.
At the time, the Zimbabwe flag had become a major rallying instrument both at home and internationally, following Mawarire’s resonant patriotism campaign.
Mawarire was arrested on Wednesday evening at the Harare International Airport when he made a surprise return to Zimbabwe from the United States of America where he had been living in self-imposed exile for six months.
After leaving Zimbabwe, he first relocated to South Africa before he eventually settled temporarily in the United States.
The popular clergyman had at that point helped to organise one of the most successful and peaceful strikes in the history of post-independent Zimbabwe, with long-suffering citizens heeding his call to stay away from work to protest the country’s worsening rot.
Dubbed Shutdown, the crippling strike forced the panicking Zanu PF government to use excessive force to quell subsequent protests, as Zimbabweans agitated for change.