A Zimbabwean pastor who was arrested for organizing protests against the government of President Robert Mugabe should be freed on bail, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Evan Mawarire, who launched a protest movement on social media called #ThisFlag, has been detained since Friday at a maximum-security prison in the capital, Harare, on charges of subverting a constitutionally elected government. He faces 20 years in prison if convicted.
He was arrested when he returned from the United States, where he had gone following his arrest and release in July. While in the United States, he organized protests against Zimbabwe’s government at U.N. headquarters in New York.
Mawarire should be released on $300 bail, surrender his passport and report twice a week to police, Judge Clement Phiri ruled.
Prosecutor Edmore Nyazamba had argued that Mawarire was a flight risk and should be kept in custody pending trial.
“He has established contacts outside the country, especially in the United States. If granted bail he will certainly abscond,” said Nyazamba, who described the pastor as a “terrorist.”
But the judge agreed with Harrison Nkomo, a lawyer for Mawarire, who told the court that charges against his client were weak and that there was no chance of fleeing.
“The applicant is not the kind of person to abscond,” the judge said.
Mugabe, 92, in power since independence in 1980, faces a brewing succession battle within the ruling ZANU-PF party amid economic turmoil that has caused massive cash shortages. Last year, police cracked down on the street protests, and Mugabe said people unhappy with the situation in Zimbabwe should leave.