Zimbabwe protest leader detained at Harare airport
The Zimbabwean pastor who led protests last year against President Robert Mugabe’s authoritarian government was arrested at Harare airport Wednesday as he returned to the country after several months abroad.
Evan Mawarire “was escorted into another room by three men even before he went through immigration or customs”, his sister Telda Mawarire told AFP.
Last year, Mawarire emerged as leader of the #ThisFlag protest movement that quickly grew into the largest street demonstrations against Mugabe in several years.
The pastor fled to South Africa in July and then to the United States in fear for his life after being publicly denounced by Mugabe, whose ruthless security forces crushed the protest movement.
The cash-strapped government has struggled to pay civil servants and the military on time as the economy has suffered a severe meltdown with more than 90 percent unemployment.
Mawarire was also detained last July for allegedly trying to overthrow the state, but a court dropped charges against him — triggering rare celebrations on the streets of Harare.
The 92-year-old president, who is increasingly fragile, has vowed to stand for re-election in 2018, though ZANU-PF party seniors have long been jockeying to step into the role when he dies.
The national flag became a symbol of anti-government protests after Mawarire, a little-known evangelical pastor, posted a Facebook video last April in which he appeared with the flag wound around his neck as he bemoaned the country’s worsening economic crisis.