Dozens of Zimbabwean anti-riot police surrounded the court where preacher Evan Mawarire was due to face charges on Wednesday relating to his calls for “stay at home” protests against President Robert Mugabe.
Mawarire, whose social media movement has rattled the 92-year-old Mugabe’s administration, is accused of inciting public violence. He spent the night in police cells after officers searched his house, church and office in the capital Harare as part of their investigations.
The police arrived with water cannons while dozens of #This Flag movement supporters wrapped Zimbabwe flags around their necks, a symbol of support for Mawarire.
Anger is rising in Zimbabwe over high unemployment, corruption in government and shortages of money, which has seen people spending hours in bank queues to withdraw their money.
Mawarire’s lawyer Harrison Nkomo said he would appear in the magistrates court at 8.30 a.m.
Zimbabwe’s government warned protesters that they would face the “full wrath of the law” if they heeded Mawarire’s call, after his #ThisFlag movement organized the biggest anti-government demonstrations in a decade last week.
After his arrest, Mawarire supporters released a pre-recorded video urging Zimbabweans to stage another stay-away protest on Wednesday, although the early signs were that most people had not heeded the call.
Queues built up as normal at bus and taxi ranks to ferry people to work in the capital, while most businesses, including banks, were open.
Teachers reported for duty at most public schools, which are conducting mid-year examinations, while nurses and doctors were at work at state-run hospitals.
Amnesty International said Mawarire’s arrest was a calculated plan by Zimbabwean authorities to intimidate activists ahead of Wednesday’s protests.
“Instead of suppressing dissenting voices, Zimbabwean authorities should be listening to protesters like Evan Mawarire,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s deputy director for southern Africa.