Zimbabwe Court to Rule on Activist Pastor's Bail Bid Next Week

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Activist Pastor Evan Mawarire is taken into a vehicle by police outside his home in Harare, Zimbabwe, Jan. 16, 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo/File Photo

A Zimbabwean activist pastor detained in a security crackdown following violent anti-government protests asked the High Court on Friday to release him on bail but the judge said he would only be able to make a decision next week.

Protests erupted in mid-January following a hike in fuel prices and lasted for several days. Security forces dispersed demonstrations by force and cracked down on activists, leading to fears that President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government is reverting to the strong-arm politics seen during Robert Mugabe's 37-year rule. 

Evan Mawarire, a pastor who rose to prominence as a critic of Mugabe and led a national shutdown in 2016, denies accusations that his Facebook video encouraging Zimbabweans to heed a strike call by the Zimbabwe Confederation of Trade Unions incited people to violence.

Mawarire, who remains in detention at Chikurubi Maximum Prison in Harare, was not present at Friday's hearing. He is one of at least 100 in the capital and other cities who faced court proceedings on public order charges in Harare and other cities on Friday, lawyers said.

Lawyer Tonderai Batasara told the court that Mawarire was willing to surrender title deeds to his parents' home, his passport and deposit $500 with the court, and make weekly reports to the police as part of conditions for his release.

"In terms of the evidence presented, the applicant has discharged his duty and shown that it's in the interest of justice that he be admitted on bail," Bhatasara said.

State prosecutors, however, said Mawarire was a flight risk and would likely commit a similar offence if released. 

Judge Tawanda Chitapi said he would make a ruling on Tuesday but hinted that he could issue a gag order on Mawarire not to post videos similar to the one which makes the basis of the state's case until the trial is over.

Zimbabwe's independent Human Rights Commission has accused security forces of systematic torture. The opposition says it fears soldiers are able to shoot and kill without being held accountable, after an official inquiry said the army shot civilians to quell post-election violence last August.

Mnangagwa, who replaced Mugabe after a de facto coup in November 2017, promised this week to investigate security services' actions against protesters.

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