ACTIVIST pastor Evan Mawarire will spend more time in detention after a court on Wednesday postponed his bail hearing because state prosecutors were not ready to proceed with the case after deadly demonstrations erupted.
Mawarire, who rose to prominence as a critic of long-time leader Robert Mugabe and led a national protest shutdown in 2016, is charged with subverting the government and inciting public violence. He faces 20 years in prison if convicted.
Zimbabwe’s military is on the streets for the first time since post-election violence in August killed six people. This time, people report being hunted down in their homes.
More than 600 people have been arrested, most denied bail.
The government-backed Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission said eight people were killed and accused the security forces of using “disproportionate force”.
It accused security forces of systematic torture, offering the starkest indications yet the country was reverting to the authoritarian rule that characterised Mugabe’s 37 years in power. Mugabe was forced from office after a coup in November 2017.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa promised action on Tuesday in response to a widely condemned clampdown on civilians during unrest ignited by his decision to raise the price of fuel by 150 percent.
Residents in two Harare townships and a neighbourhood in the second city, Bulawayo, said patrolling soldiers beat up residents on Tuesday night, continuing a trend seen since the protests started. Armed soldiers are providing security for a subsidised state bus service.
Mawarire was tried on similar charges in 2017 but was acquitted for lack of evidence.
His lawyer, Tonderai Bhatasara, said a judge was due to hear the case at the High Court from 9am local time on Wednesday. Mawarire was not expected to attend the hearing.
A lawyers’ group expressed concern that the courts were denying bail to anyone charged with public violence and, in some cases, were fast-tracking trials, threatening the right to fair hearings.
As the court prepared to hear Mawarire’s case, Mnangagwa was due to swear in Kumbirai Hodzi as prosecutor general, government officials said.
Hodzi raised eyebrows when he told the interviewing panel that he took instructions from the executive when deciding who to prosecute, leading to opposition accusations that the prosecutor general’s office was not independent.
Last week’s protests and security crackdown brought into focus Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis, exposing deep-seated anger over the direction of the economy.
Mnangagwa promised during campaigning for the July 2018 presidential vote to repair the economy and break with Mugabe’s politics. However, critics say Zimbabwe has fallen back into a familiar pattern.