Zimbabwean police on Friday charged U.S. human rights activist and television producer Martha O’Donovan with attempting to overthrow the government of President Robert Mugabe by allegedly sending out a tweet deemed to be offensive, according to lawyers.
Police raided her apartment in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, around 5 a.m. and took her to the Harare Central Police Station. She was charged in the late afternoon.
Police claimed O’Donovan had tweeted, “We are being led by a selfish man and a sick man,” and charged her under the country’s repressive laws.
The charge was much more serious than the charge initially anticipated by her lawyers, a charge of insulting the dignity of the president, which is illegal in Zimbabwe.
It was the first arrest in Zimbabwe since Mugabe established a Cyber Security Ministry, in an ominous sign of the country’s intensifying crackdown on activism and freedom of speech. The arrest suggested that Zimbabwe’s vibrant social media, one arena in which activists and citizens freely express dissent, is being targeted.
O’Donovan works as a producer and project officer with local television network Magamba, which produces satirical content for distribution by Facebook and YouTube, designed to provoke activism and open up Zimbabwe’s democratic space.
The producer has been working with Magamba for about a year, according to network co-founder Tongai Makawa. She has also worked with the Children’s Radio Foundation, an organization that trains children in Africa to create their own radio programs.
O’Donovan was represented by Obey Shava, of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, an organization that often represents activists who are arrested in Zimbabwe. The organization tweeted a photograph of O’Donovan and her lawyer at the police station Friday.
Makawa said lawyers has told them that O’Donovan would likely have to spend the night in the police cells at Harare Central Police Station and may appear in court Saturday.-LATimes