NEW YORK (December 28, 2017) — The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) welcomes the United Nations’ determination that the February and September 2017 arrests and subsequent imprisonment of Zimbabwean human rights activist and religious leader Evan Mawarire were arbitrary under international law. In a decision published today, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) concluded that Mawarire’s arbitrary deprivation of liberty resulted from the exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and recommended that Zimbabwe provide him with compensation for his wrongful imprisonments.
“We celebrate the working group’s decision condemning the Zimbabwean government for its persecution of Mawarire — it’s a powerful confirmation that Mawarire should never have been arrested and charged in the first place,” said HRF President Thor Halvorssen. “We call on Zimbabwe to provide guarantees that it will cease harassing Mawarire, ensuring that he can continue to exercise his activities without government interference.”
In June 2016, Mawarire’s social movement, #ThisFlag, asked Zimbabweans to stay home instead of going to work. The protest opposed government corruption and extortion, police brutality, and the country’s dire economic situation. The strike was so influential that offices, schools, and financial institutions closed for the day. In early 2017, Mawarire was detained at Harare International Airport after disembarking from an international flight and was charged with “subverting constitutional government” and “insulting the flag” for his role in calling for the strike. Months later, in June 2017, police again arrested Evan Mawarire as he prayed with University of Zimbabwe medical students who were holding a protest over a recent fees hike. Most recently, on September 24, police arrested Mawarire at his church for the alleged crimes of “subverting a constitutionally elected government and inciting public violence” after he published a video, via Facebook, in which he criticized Zimbabwe’s poor economic state, high rate of inflation, and endemic corruption.
The UNWGAD’s decision came as a result of HRF’s February 22, 2017 petition requesting that the body investigate Mawarire’s arbitrary arrest and the detentions that followed over the course of the year. The UNWGAD concluded that Mawarire’s deprivation of liberty in February and September of 2017 were arbitrary and recommended that Zimbabwe accord Mawarire “an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law.”
“We commend the working group’s decision corroborating the damning facts presented by HRF and confirming Zimbabwe’s failure to observe its international obligations under Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” said Roberto González, international legal associate at HRF. “After this decision, the government of Zimbabwe must understand that, if it continues to deprive Zimbabweans of their most basic rights and freedoms, the international community will hold it accountable.”
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.