NEW YORK (November 29, 2017) — The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) welcomes today’s decision by Harare’s High Court to acquit human rights activist and civil society leader Evan Mawarire of all politically motivated charges against him. This decision comes shortly after a military coup, and dictator Robert Mugabe’s resignation last week. Mawarire was arrested during Mugabe’s rule on February 1 for his role in organizing a peaceful general strike in 2016. In light of today’s decision, HRF calls on Zimbabwe to guarantee it will not resume its persecution of Mawarire.
“It is encouraging that a Zimbabwean court would acquit Mawarire, but the truth is that Mawarire should never have been arrested and charged in the first place,” said HRF President Thor Halvorssen. “Although we celebrate this victory for Mawarire, we are conscious of the fact that Zimbabwe’s political situation is extremely fragile following Robert Mugabe’s ouster. We hope that President Emmerson Mnangagwa will facilitate a transition to democracy by refraining from using violence against peaceful protestors and calling for free and fair elections in the short term.”
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. The shutdown paralyzed cities in Zimbabwe as officials struggled to end the protests. 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.
Since then, Mawarire has appeared in court dozens of times to defend himself against the charges. He was freed on bail shortly after his detention and forced to surrender his passport, with the obligation to report to his local police station every Monday. Today, Judge Priscilla Chigumba of Harare’s High Court ruled there was no evidence that Mawarire had “urged a violent removal of government.”
“Under international law, states are obligated to provide ‘guarantees of non-repetition’ to prevent any wrongful act from reoccurring in the future. This customary rule has been applied consistently by the U.N. Human Rights Committee over the years,” said Roberto González, international legal associate at HRF. “We call on Zimbabwe, as a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to adopt the necessary ‘guarantees of non-repetition’ to ensure that Evan Mawarire can continue to exercise his activities without government interference.”
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.