Tsitsi Dangarembga, an award-winning Zimbabwean author and Booker Prize nominee, has been released on bail after her arrest during an anti-government protest.
Eleven other people detained on Friday – including Fadzayi Mahere, a lawyer and spokeswoman for the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change-Alliance party – were also freed on Saturday.
They were ordered to return to court on September 18.
Dangarembga was charged with incitement to commit violence and breaching anti-coronavirus health regulations after staging a two-woman demonstration in the capital on Friday, the day of planned protests against corruption and a deepening economic crisis.
But the streets of Harare, as well as of the second city of Bulawayo, remained deserted as hundreds of soldiers and police officers were deployed to prevent the outlawed demonstrations.
On the previous day, police had warned anyone attending would “only have themselves to blame” while President Emmerson Mnangagwa denounced the planned rallies as “an insurrection to overthrow our democratically elected government”.
Dangarembga was carrying placards calling for reforms and the release of Hopewell Chin’ono, a prominent journalist arrested last week under a government crackdown,
“Friends, here is a principle. If you want your suffering to end, you have to act. Action comes from hope. This the principle of faith and action,” she had written on Twitter before her arrest, which came days after her latest novel, This Mournable Body, entered the long list for the prestigious Booker Prize.
In a statement of on Friday, Amnesty International said, “The brutal assault on political activists and human rights defenders who have had the courage to call out alleged corruption and demand accountability from their government is intensifying.”
“The persecution of these activists is a blatant abuse of the criminal justice system and mockery of justice.”
UK Ambassador Melanie Robinson expressed concern over reports of abductions, arrests and threats targeting those exercising their rights.
Mnangagwa came to power after a military takeover overthrew President Robert Mugabe, who had ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years.
The president, who won a disputed July 2018 election, promised a new start and a revival of the country’s shattered economy by attracting foreign investment.
But popular anger has grown as Zimbabwe suffers a severe economic crisis marked by hyperinflation, a local currency that is rapidly depreciating against the US dollar and acute foreign exchange shortages. An estimated 90 percent of Zimbabweans are without formal employment.
Mnangagwa has also been accused of employing the heavy-handed tactics of his predecessor against political opponents, including banning protests and abducting and arresting critics.
Critics also say Mnangagwa is exploiting a COVID-19 lockdown to stifle dissent, after he imposed an overnight curfew and restricted free movement last week.
As of Saturday, Zimbabwe has registered 3,169 confirmed coronavirus cases and 67 related deaths, according to data collected by the Johns Hopkins University. More than 1,000 people have recovered.