Zimbabwe's Pastor Evan found not guilty of subversion
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Harare - A Zimbabwean court found a pastor
not guilty on Wednesday of attempting to subvert the government
in a case seen as a barometer of judicial independence under new
President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Evan Mawarire was a strident critic of former President
Robert Mugabe who resigned last week after 37 years in power
week under pressure from the army and ruling ZANU-PF party.
Mawarire's #ThisFlag movement last year organised the
biggest protests in a decade against Mugabe over a deteriorating
economy, cash shortages and accusations of government
He was arrested in September and faced up to 20 years in
jail if convicted.
Mugabe's critics say he used the courts as a tool of
repression. They want to see if Mnangagwa's government breaks
with the past, particularly given that he served in Mugabe's
administration since independence from Britain in 1980.
Amnesty International said in a statement they hoped that
the ruling represents a new beginning for the country.
Mawarire said he would keep up the pressure.
"If they (the new government) do to us what Robert Mugabe's
government did to us, we will do the same thing to them that we
have done to Robert Mugabe," Mawarire told reporters in court
room soon after High Court Judge Priscilla Chigumba's judgment.
"This could be evidence of a freer Zimbabwe but this case
had no legs to stand on. I think a lot more needs to be seen to
determine whether this is a free judiciary going forward," he
Chigumba said state prosecutors failed to show evidence that
Mawarire's actions were a criminal offence. She also found him
not guilty of inciting people to commit public violence.
"He urged passive resistance, he urged prayers for peace.
How can prayers for peace be considered an unconstitutional
means of removing a constitutional government?" said Chigumba.
There was a sigh of relief from the handful of people in
court when the ruling was made.
Mnangagwa must address a crisis facing Zimbabwe's economy
that includes balance of payments problems and rampant inflation
and steer the country towards an election next year.
Britain could take steps to stabilise Zimbabwe's currency
system and extend a bridging loan to help it clear World Bank
and African Development Bank arrears, but such support depends
on "democratic progress", Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said.
"Those are indeed the things that we would try to do to help
Zimbabwe forward, but we've got to see how the democratic
process unfolds," he said on Wednesday on the sidelines of an
African Union-EU summit in Abidjan.