• Evan Mawarire originally charged with inciting violence
  • New charge could bring 20-year jail sentence, lawyer says

Baptist pastor Evan Mawarire was charged with trying to overthrow President Robert Mugabe’s government in Zimbabwe Wednesday as riot police with water cannons kept his chanting supporters at bay outside a magistrate’s court in Harare, the capital.

The authorities changed the original charge against the 39-year-old preacher, who was arrested Tuesday, from inciting public violence to “subverting a constitutional government.” He now faces the possibility of 20 years in jail, Mawarire’s lawyer, Harrison Nkomo, told judge Vakai Chikwekwe. Hundreds of Mawarire supporters were present at the court draped in Zimbabwean flags and singing the national anthem.

“These charges were not read out to him,” Nkomo said. “That is clearly unlawful. His worship must not participate in this unlawful process.”

The hearing occurred as a two-day national strike called by Mawarire and his #ThisFlag movement largely failed, a week after a similar action brought much of the southern African nation to a halt. President Robert Mugabe’s administration has faced mounting public unrest as a cash shortage has undermined the government’s ability to pay its workers and consumers’ access to funds to pay their bills.

Mawarire has posted regular videos on Facebook calling for non-violent protest against corruption, police brutality, poverty and the introduction of a local currency, planned for October.

“The motivations behind the arrest of Evan Mawarire are plain and an embarrassment to the Zimbabwean government,” Alex Magaisa, a U.K.-based law lecturer and one of the authors of Zimbabwe’s 2013 constitution, said in an e-mailed statement. “The citizens’ movement he has generated has rattled the government and they have responded in the one way they know, which is to use the force of law, including repressive laws in conflict with his constitutional rights.”

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