Zimbabwe unionist charged with subversion after turning himself in to police

Zimbabwe unionist charged with subversion after turning himself in to police.
Zimbabwe unionist charged with subversion after turning himself in to police.
Image: 123RF/stockstudio44

 The leader of Zimbabwe’s main labour federation was charged with with subversion on Friday after he turned himself in to the police after protests that were violently suppressed, his lawyers said Friday.

The president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), Peter Mutasa, presented himself to police in Harare in the company of his lawyer, Alec Muchadehama. He was then charged “with subverting a constitutional government,” Muchadehama said, adding the unionist was likely to appear in court on Saturday.

The charge sheet also carries an alternative accusation of “inciting public violence,” he said. ZCTU Secretary General Japhet Moyo was arrested on similar charges on Monday. Mutasa had appeared earlier this month on a video clip posted on social media, with cleric and activist Evan Mawarire.

They called jointly for a national job boycott to protest against a steep fuel price increase and an entrenched economic malaise. Mawarire was arrested last week on subversion charges as well as inciting violence, and earlier on Friday he sought bail in the High Court. The prosecution opposed his bail application on the grounds that he was likely to abscond.

“If convicted he’s likely to stand a long term of imprisonment and that is enough inducement for him to flee,” prosecutor Mirirai Shumba told the High Court in Harare. A ruling on the bail request will be handed down on Tuesday.

Mawarire, a pastor, became a prominent voice during protests in 2016 when he posted videos on social media criticising the government while wearing a Zimbabwean flag around his neck. His posts inspired the #ThisFlag movement that led mass protests against Mugabe, who was ousted after a military takeover.

Nationwide demonstrations erupted after President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced on January 12 that fuel prices were being more than doubled in a country suffering regular shortages of necessities. Furious demonstrators took to the streets in several cities and towns with widespread rioting and looting.

Soldiers and police put down the demonstrations, but at the cost of more than 12 lives, according to NGOs. More than 1,100 people have been arrested, according to police. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says its lawmakers and senior figures are among those detained. Global rights watchdog Amnesty International’s director for Southern Africa, Deprose Muchena, on Friday called on Zimbabwe authorities to “immediately halt their menacing threats” towards activists and opposition leaders.

Amnesty International urged the government to ensure security forces “are held to account for ongoing brutal human rights violations, including torture, rape, beatings and killings of civilians“. There have been widespread reports of severe brutality against civilians during the crackdown.

Critics include the government-appointed human rights commission, which says the security forces carried “systematic torture“. 

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