HARARE (Reuters) – A Zimbabwean pastor at the heart of a protest movement against President Robert Mugabe was freed on bail on Wednesday, two days after he was arrested at a student rally and charged with promoting violence.
Evan Mawarire, whose #ThisFlag movement last year led to the biggest anti-government demonstrations in a decade, walked into the magistrates court carrying a Bible and stood as the charges, also including disorderly conduct, were read.
The 40-year-old preacher is also due to stand trial in September on separate charges of plotting to overthrow the government and insulting the national flag.
He did not speak on Wednesday, but his lawyer told reporters after his arrest that he denied the new charges. He left the room as officials prepared his release papers. His next court appearance was set for July 19.
Police arrested Mawarire on Monday at the University of Zimbabwe where he addressed medical students demonstrating against an increase in fees. The students were expelled from campus hostels on Tuesday.
Mawarire has used social media to speak out against corruption, injustice and poverty.
Amnesty International called him a “prisoner of conscience” after his detention.
“His arrest unfortunately shows that he continues to be targeted by a government hell-bent on criminalizing him for exercising his rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” the rights group said.
(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by James Macharia and Andrew Heavens)