File photo: SAPS (Twitter)

Harare - The Zimbabwean government's orders to shut down the internet in a bid to stifle protests last week were illegal, a rights group said on Monday.

The shutdowns came after a week of violent mass protests against economic hardship, in which at least 12 people were killed and dozens injured, according to rights groups.

Justice Owen Tagu at the High Court in Harare ruled on Monday that the shutdowns, ordered as part of a wider move aimed at containing the anti-government protests, were illegal, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) spokesman Kumbirai Mafunda told dpa. 

A first internet blackout was ordered on Tuesday. The internet was restored on Wednesday but shut down again on Friday.

The internet was restored on Friday afternoon, but access to social media remained blocked.

"We hope the government will now lift the ban on the social media," Mafunda said.

Also on Monday, police confirmed that Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary-general Japhet Moyo has been charged with subversion for his role in organizing the protests.

Moyo is expected to appear in court later this week, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said.

Moyo's arrest follows that of prominent anti-government critic Evan Mawarire last Wednesday.

Mawarire has also been charged with subversion, which can result in up to 20 years imprisonment.

dpa