Harare, Zimbabwe | AFP | Zimbabwean activist pastor Evan Mawarire pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to charges of misconduct and inciting a crowd to cause violence.
Mawarire — an outspoken opponent of ruling President Robert Mugabe — became popular with his #ThisFlag movement that challenged Mugabe’s government over the economic crisis.
Responding in court after the charges were read out in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, he said: “I plead not guilty.”
Mawarire is jointly charged with his colleague Ocean Chiota. The pair were arrested in June for allegedly addressing medical students who were striking over a hike in fees at the University of Zimbabwe.
The trial will continue on September 28.
Mawarire is also facing separate charges of trying to remove the government, for which he will appear in court on September 25.
Not affiliated with any political party, Mawarire launched the #ThisFlag campaign in early 2016 on social media networks.
The online videos, in which he appears with the Zimbabwean flag in a sling to denounce the living conditions of the population, sparked a wave of strikes and demonstrations across the country.
Last year, supporters shut down major cities and paralysed public transport, prompting the government to ban public protests.
The movement was stamped out by Mugabe, 93, who has ruled the country since independence in 1980.
Fearing for his life, Mawarire fled to South Africa July 2016, and then to the United States.
He was arrested at Harare airport on 1 February this year — the day he returned to Zimbabwe — charged with attempting to sabotage the government, and released on bail.
Mawarire is yet to face trial on that charge.