The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC) expresses its grave concern over the recent arrest and prosecution of Pastor Evan Mawarire.
Pastor Mawarire fled Zimbabwe to the United States approximately six months ago, following harassment and threats against his life. At the time, he was the leader of the #ThisFlag campaign, a popular movement seeking to put pressure on the Zimbabwean government to combat poverty and corruption.
Upon Pastor Mawarire’s return to Zimbabwe on 1 February 2017, he was arrested and charged with subverting a constitutional government, a charge with a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment. Pastor Mawarire had previously faced prosecution under the same legislation;the Court dismissed that prosecution on 14 July 2016,
Pastor Mawarire was denied bail, and it is understood that he currently is being held in a maximum security prison. Despite bail being opposed, Pastor Mawarire was granted bail by a High Court Judge on 8 February 2017. His trial is due to commence on 17 February 2017.
Kirsty Brimelow QC, Chairperson of the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales said:
“The arrest, detention and prosecution of Pastor Mawarire undermines Zimbabwe’s own established constitutional protections for freedom of expression, assembly and peaceful demonstration
We urge the State of Zimbabwe to ensure that Pastor Mawaire is treated with fair due process, in accordance with his constitution rights and in compliance with International Law.
Arrest, detention and prosecution should not be used as political tools to stifle and suppress peaceful political protest.”
Articles 58, 59, 60 and 61 of Zimbabwe’s recently enacted 2013 Constitution protects the right to freedom of expression, assembly and to peaceful demonstration.
Article 49 contains the right not to be deprived of personal liberty without a just cause. Under Article 50, a person must be released from detention whilst awaiting trial unless there are compelling reasons justifying their continued detention.
Article 53 of the Constitution prohibits the use of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
Article 69 of the Constitution ensures the right of every person accused of an offence to a fair trial.
Zimbabwe has acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which protects the rights to a fair trial as well as of freedom of expression and association as well as the prohibition on torture.
BHRC observes that the arrest, detention and prosecution of peaceful protesters offends against Zimbabwe’s own constitution as well as international law.
BHRC urges the Zimbabwean government to respect freedom of expression and assembly in Zimbabwe. BHRC calls on the Zimbabwean government to ensure that people are not arrested, detained and prosecuted for peacefully expressing their political beliefs and seeking to challenge the government. Nor should arrest, detention and prosecution be used as a means to stifle peaceful political protest and freedom of speech.