#ThisFlag Pastor Mawarire fears his return home would lead to arrest

Robert Mugabe accuses Pastor Mawarire, who leads a small congregation of worshippers in Harare, of leading a violent campaign against his government

President Robert Mugabe speaks out against  #ThisFlag social media campaigner
President Robert Mugabe speaks out against #ThisFlag social media campaigner

HARARE – Evan Mawarire, the Zimbabwean pastor whose #ThisFlag social media campaign contributed massively to a significant stayaway two weeks ago, says he is now “seriously” worried about returning home after hearing President Robert Mugabe denouncing him.

Pastor Mawarire left for South Africa “to clear his head” after subversion charges against him were dropped by a Zimbabwe court last week. He said soon after arriving in the country he would be returning home.

At a state funeral on Tuesday Mugabe, 92, spoke about Mawarire for the first time, accusing the pastor of encouraging violence.

Mugabe says  Mawarire encouraging violence

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Mugabe accused the preacher, who leads a small congregation of worshippers in Harare, of leading a violent campaign ahead of a national stayaway on July 6, which coincided with a strike by many unpaid civil servants.

Mugabe told mourners at the official funeral for Charles Utete, his former chief secretary: “The Mawarire’s … I don’t even know him, and those who believe in that way of living, well, are not part of us in thinking, they are not part of us as we try to live together. If they don’t want to live with us they should go to those countries that are sponsoring them.

“You can’t urge people to adopt violence, violent demonstrations as the way of life or a way of solving grievances, no.

“We will say no, forever no; find another environment if you are a pastor. I don’t know if he is a man of religion. A man of religion will speak the biblical truth … beware these men of God, not all of them are preachers of the Bible. I don’t know whether they are serving God or they spell G.O.D. in reverse.”

Foreign help

The state-controlled media have accused the French and US governments of assisting Mawarire’s #ThisFlag campaign.

Mawarire was arrested on charges of inciting public violence last week. But when he got to the Harare Magistrate’s Court the charges put to him were different. He was accused of plotting to overthrow a constitutionally elected government, or treason, in other words.

The legal anomaly forced the state to drop the charges and Mawarire was immediately freed. Thousands who had gathered outside the court celebrated with him late into the night.

The pastor launched his #This Flag campaign on social media in April, with a video of himself draped in the National flag. Mawarire accused the government of betraying the flag and the country through corruption, late payment of civil service salaries and poor governance, including ruining the economy so that people could not withdraw cash from banks.

The pastor did not mention violence in his posts on social media and messages sent to journalists. Soon after he was freed, Mawarire urged his supporters to continue protesting against corruption and police brutality. He then travelled by road, legally, to South Africa.

Mawarire said he was shocked when he heard Mugabe’s words.

“To hear a head of state talk of something that is an untruth is bad. So this has become a very serious situation for me, and I fear it. I am worried,” said the pator.

“I make regular trips to South Africa. The main reason I came here was just to get away from it all, to calm down, relax, clear my head and think clearly about the way forward.”

Several prominent and experienced lawyers in Zimbabwe say they believe he will be arrested again as soon as he returns home and will face charges of attempting to overthrow the government which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison without option of a fine.

Fearing arrest

Mawarire said he and many others in Zimbabwe feared arrest although the police had treated him fairly at Harare Central Police Station.

“The police were cordial. But the cell was terrible. There were 22 of us in the cell no bigger then 10m x 10m and the blankets had been defecated on. We had to use the blankets as it was cold, and the smell, Oh!”

He said when he was taken the next day to the shabby Harare Magistrate’s Court. a sewer pipe along the walkway next to the cells was burst. “I had to eat my lunch next to that,” he said.

On his Facebook page, Mawarire had said he was going home. But that was before hearing what Mugabe said about him. Now he says is a very worried man and uncertain about the future.-M&G