#IndexAwards2017: Evan Mawarire’s #ThisFlag protest brings hope to a nation

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Zimbabwean pastor Evan Mawarire, who was arrested upon his return after six months in exile, has risked his freedom to protest the lack of democracy in his country

In May 2016, Baptist pastor Evan Mawarire began the most important protest movement in Zimbabwe’s recent history when he posted a video of himself draped in the Zimbabwean flag, expressing his frustration at the state of the nation. A subsequent series of YouTube videos and the hashtag Mawarire used, #ThisFlag, went viral, sparking protests and a boycott called by Mawarire, which he estimates was attended by over eight million people. A scale of public protest previously inconceivable, the impact was so strong that private possession of Zimbabwe’s national flag has since been banned.

“I called the campaign #ThisFlag because it encouraged citizens to get involved in reclaiming national pride by condemning the shameless actions of government and its officials,” Mawarire told Index on Censorship.

Mawarire went into hiding soon after the videos release, fearing for his safety following an attempted abduction. He was arrested and charged with inciting public disorder, but the prosecution then added the more severe charge of subversion on the day of his trial without notifying his legal team. During his trial, a magistrate judge ruled that it was unconstitutional for the prosecution to bring new charges in court and acquitted Mawarire of all charges.

The pastor then temporarily left the country following death threats. He returned on 1 February, where he was immediately rearrested at Harare International Airport on his return to the country from New York for “subverting the constitutionally elected government”.

Index spoke with Mawarire before his return to Zimbabwe. He recorded a message to be posted in the result of his arrest.

On 8 February, Mawarire was granted bail. The high Court ruled that he must surrender his passport, report twice a week to the police and pay a $300 bond. His trial has been postponed and his next hearing is on 21 April.-indexoncensorship.org

See the full shortlist for Index on Censorship’s Freedom of Expression Awards 2017 here.