Harare, Zimbabwe | AFP | A Zimbabwean court on Tuesday ordered the release of an activist pastor and government critic who was detained over a video on social media lamenting the country’s worsening economic crisis.
A Harare magistrate ruled that Evan Mawarire be freed immediately after the prosecution delayed taking him to court.
Elisha Singano said the prosecution “were in breach of the 48 hours mandatory time that an accused person must be brought to court” and ordered the cleric’s release without conditions.
Mawarire faced a second charge of incitement to public violence but that has been dropped after the magistrate freed him.
The pastor is already on trial in the High Court where he pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges of trying to remove President Robert Mugabe’s government from power.
If he is found guilty, he could face up to 20 years in prison.
The charges stem from his involvement in organising a crippling strike in July last year that shut down major cities and paralysed public transport, prompting the government to ban public protests.
Police arrested the 40-year-old during a church service on Sunday, a day after he posted the video criticising the dire economic conditions in the country.
The video showed long queues at fuel stations, as petrol and diesel supplies ran short across the capital Harare, in the midst of severe foreign currency shortages.
Zimbabwe is battling an economic meltdown and is suffering from a shortage of foreign currency, despite the adoption of the US dollar and other currencies to stem hyperinflation.
Last year the country introduced bond notes – a quasi-currency – which was pegged to the US dollar, in an attempt to stem the crisis.
But the bond notes have not eased the country’s cash crunch.