HRF in the News, Press Releases

OFF Speaker Evan Mawarire Arrested in Zimbabwe During Crackdown

NEW YORK (January 16, 2019) — The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) condemns the arbitrary arrest of nonviolent activist and pastor Evan Mawarire, and calls on the government of Zimbabwe to release him immediately. HRF has worked closely with Mawarire through the Oslo Freedom Forum — where he first spoke in 2017 — and has filed successful submissions on his behalf with the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. According to news reports, armed police arrested Mawarire in his house today. He is expected to be indicted with inciting violence in the next few hours.

The arrest comes amid a violent government crackdown on civilian protests and union strikes sparked by a more-than-twofold increase in fuel prices announced this week. The protests have already resulted in the deaths of several civilians, and the government has used the chaos to violate the rights of its citizens, including by limiting internet access and blocking social media. Yesterday, HRF signed a joint letter to Kazembe Zazembe, the Zimbabwean minister of information communication technology and cyber security, requesting that the government guarantee the stability and openness of the internet in Zimbabwe.

“Emmerson Mnangagwa is ruling Zimbabwe with the same level of brutality that Robert Mugabe once did. It is perhaps unsurprising that Mnangagwa – a man once known as Mugabe’s ‘enforcer’ and who gained office through widely-criticized elections — has now duplicated his predecessor’s zero-tolerance policy for dissent. Zimbabwe must stop arresting peaceful protesters and allow freedom of speech in the country,” said Roberto González, senior legal associate at HRF. “Mawarire should be released immediately and all charges against him should be dropped.”

Pastor Mawarire rose to public notice in 2016 as the founder of the #ThisFlagmovement, a citizens’ nonviolent movement demanding democracy in Zimbabwe and opposing Robert Mugabe’s long-standing dictatorship. In early 2017, Mawarire was detained at Harare International Airport after disembarking an international flight, and was charged with “subverting constitutional government” and “insulting the flag” for his role in #ThisFlag. Months later, in June 2017, police again arrested Mawarire as he prayed with University of Zimbabwe medical students who were holding a protest over a recent fee hike. A few months after that, police arrested Mawarire a third time at his church, for the alleged crimes of “subverting a constitutionally elected government” and “inciting public violence,” after he posted a video on Facebook in which he criticized Zimbabwe’s poor economic state, high rate of inflation, and endemic corruption.

Later that year, the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an opinion based on an HRF petition, ruling that the February and September 2017 arrests and subsequent imprisonments of Mawarire had been arbitrary under international law, recommending that Zimbabwe provide him with compensation for his wrongful imprisonments.

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.

Evan Mawarire spoke about his activism and his hopes for Zimbabwe at the 2017 Oslo Freedom Forum; watch and share his talk here.

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