Zimbabwe’s Youngest Lawmaker Faces Up to 20 Years in Jail for Urging Anti-Government Protests

FILE - In this Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019 file photo, protestors gather near a burning tire during a demonstration over the hike in fuel prices in Harare, Zimbabwe. 2019 is already a busy year for internet shutdowns in Africa, with governments ordering cutoffs as soon as a crisis appears. Zimbabwe …
AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, File
BEN KEW

A young Zimbabwe lawmaker could face up to 20 years in jail for urging her constituents to attend widespread anti-government protests in January that led to three deaths at the hands of state security forces.

Zimbabwe opposition lawmaker Joanna Mamombe, 25, was arrested in Harare this weekend on charges of subversion after she allegedly asked her constituents to participate in anti-government protests in January over the sharp rise in gasoline prices and the country’s worsening economic crisis.

The demonstrations were eventually crushed by the country’s military, who have since arrested around 1,000 people for their involvement. Those detained include dozens of opposition officials, labor leaders, and political activists.

Mamombe’s lawyer Jeremiah Bhamu confirmed his client’s arrest and said she is expected in court this week.

“She was brought to Harare and she has been charged with subverting a constitutionally-elected government and the allegations are that she addressed a press conference on January 14 and advocated, suggested or urged people to engage in civil disobedience and called for (sabotaging of) government’s essential services intending to overthrow the government,” he said.

Mamombe’s party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), reacted angrily to the news, accusing the ruling Zanu PF of creating “vigilante groups” to crack down on all political opposition.

“A team of about eight henchmen, who snatched Honourable Mamombe Boko Haram style, claimed to be from the police Law and Order section and were driving a Toyota Fortuner registration number ACI 4582,” explained party chief whip Prosper Mutseyami.

“This is a result of the Zanu PF military-political settlement, which has seen them create vigilante groups and vested powers of the state to these killer units resulting in the death of at least 17 people in January and seven others on August 1, 2018,” he continued.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who succeeded the ousted dictator Robert Mugabe in 2017 and won a disputed presidential election last year, has accused Western countries of engineering the protests in a bid to oust his far-left regime.

“We regret the loss of life but we needed to protect property as well as other citizens not involved in the protests,” Mnangagwa said last month. “We have told the western countries that they cannot turn around and raise concerns when they are the ones sponsoring the violence.”

In a statement, the U.S. Embassy in Harare condemned the arrests, warning that such repression damages the country’s reputation in the post-Mugabe era.

“Harassment and targeted arrests of civil society leaders damage Zimbabwe’s reputation & economic future,” they wrote. “We call on the Zimbabwean government to uphold its constitution, protect human rights, and foster an environment where all can contribute to the nation’s progress.”

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