Police in Zimbabwe have arrested an American citizen for allegedly insulting dictator Robert Mugabe on Twitter, embassy officials have confirmed.
Embassy spokesperson David McGuire told the Associated Press that Martha O’Donovan was detained on Friday morning.
O’Donovan is now being represented by Obey Shava of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, who said authorities made the decision to arrest her because of “tweets emanating from her IT address [that were] insulting to the president.”
She had been living in Zimbabwe as part of her work for Magamba TV, which describes itself as the “leading producer of cutting-edge, political satire and comedy shows” aimed at a younger audience.
Magamba TV also confirmed her detention at a center in Harare, although she was yet to be charged formally.
Earlier today the police arrested @Martha_ODonovan for allegedly insulting the president on socia media.
— Magamba Tv (@MagambaTV) November 3, 2017
According to Zimbabwean outlet Harare 24, authorities had obtained a warrant for a morning raid on O’Donovan’s property and seized all of her electronic devices.
The tweet in question reportedly “referred to a certain Goblin, whose wife and stepsons imported a Rolls Royce vehicle,” although it did not make a direct reference to Robert Mugabe, the nation’s nonagenarian dictator. It is not visible due to the privacy settings on her account.
O’Donovan’s arrest comes a month after Mugabe appointed a minister for cybersecurity tasked with policing crimes on social media, which government critics dubbed the “minister of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp affairs.”
Last year, an anti-government pastor was also arrested after circulating videos highlighting the country’s worsening economic problems, which included people waiting in long lines for basic products such as food and fuel, while the group Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights claims it has represented nearly 200 people charged with criticizing the government.
The move was also an attempt to crack down on growing anti-government dissidence across Zimbabwe, especially with the rise of protest movements primarily organized via social media.
It also coincides with the country’s 2018 elections, with 93-year-old Mugabe still intending to run for another five-year term as leader of the left-wing nationalist Zimbabwe African National Union, meaning he would be 99 by the time he left office.
Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe by decree since becoming president in 1980 following independence from Britain, last won re-election in 2013, in a vote widely condemned as fraudulent by members of the international community.