Zimbabwe was calm Thursday after three days of protests that turned violent and saw authorities shut down internet service. Doctors said they treated dozens of people with gunshot wounds.
Late in the day, police brought Pastor Evan Mawarire to court after he spent a night in jail on charges of inciting violence through social media. But Mawarire was facing new charges of trying to subvert President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government, according to state papers. He talked briefly as he arrived at the court.
“It is just unfortunate that our government will continue to treat us this way,” he said upon arriving at the court. “This is what Robert Mugabe did to us. Very, very disappointing. I cannot tell you how heartbreaking it is.
“We thought we had a new country and a new way of doing things. None of what I am being accused of is what I have done at all. I did nothing of that nature. If we have true justice, let us see it at play.”
When asked whether he was angry, he replied, “I am very upset, very upset.”
Mawarire was among more than 600 Zimbabweans arrested and charged with violence allegedly committed during this week’s protests over a 150 percent fuel price hike and a general rise in the cost of living.
Human rights organizations accused the army of brutally crushing the protests, an accusation the government vehemently denied. The organization Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights said least 68 people were treated for gunshot wounds.
A 36-year-old protester identified as Taurai said he was hit with an iron bar and was being treated for a suspected broken backbone.
“Comparing today’s error and yesteryear’s error, I would say yesteryear’s error was better. Te guy [Mugabe] had control over his security agencies, especially in urban centers.”
When asked why he thought Mnangagwa had reacted as he did, Taurai said, “Maybe he is trying to instill fear among us.”
Meanwhile the U.S. Embassy information officer in Harare, Stacy Lomba, said the embassy was concerned about the violence that characterized this week’s protests.
“We condemn any disproportionate use of force and call on Zimbabwe’s security forces to respond to civil unrest professionally and with respect for human life and constitutional rights,” Lomba said. “We are also alarmed by credible reports that security forces are targeting and beating political activists and labor leaders.
“The United States strongly supports freedom of expression, freedom of association and peaceful assembly. People have the constitutional right to protest and express their views peacefully. … We call on protesters to refrain from violence and threats of violence, which will only cause further economic hardship.”
Zimbabwean authorities have restored most internet service, but with no access to social media they said was used to spread malicious information about the strike.