Zimbabwe police armed with AK-47 rifles arrested Evan Mawarire, an activist and pastor, from his home in the capital, Harare, on Wednesday morning as a crackdown grew over protests against dramatic fuel price hikes in the economically shattered country. He was clutching a Bible when police bundled him into their car.
Mawarire in 2016 organized what became nationwide anti-government protests against government mismanagement and then-President Robert Mugabe’s long stay in power.
“They are alleging that he incited violence through Twitter and other forms of social media in the central business district,” said Beatrice Mtetwa, Mawarire’s lawyer.
There were widespread reports of violence as the country faced a third day of protests, and Zimbabwe’s largest telecom company, Econet, sent text messages to customers saying it had been forced by the government to shut down internet service.
“The matter is beyond our control,” it said.
Other arrests were reported. A spokesman for the main opposition MDC party, Nkululeko Sibanda, said in a Twitter post that “party leadership” had been detained. “This is only deepening the political crisis in the country,” he said.
As President Emmerson Mnangagwa makes an extended overseas trip that will include a stop at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to plead for more foreign investment, former military commander and Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, a hardliner, is in charge at home.
Eight people were killed on Monday when police and military fired on crowds, according to Amnesty International. But Zimbabwe’s government said three people were killed, including a policeman who was stoned to death by an angry crowd.
The anti-government demonstrations amounted to “terrorism,” Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said on state television Tuesday night. The protests were “well-coordinated” by Zimbabwe’s opposition, she said.
Streets were deserted in Harare on Wednesday.