We won !!! We matter !!! He's free !!!! Yes !!!!!!! - tweet after Mawarire release
14 July 2016, 11:57
Harare -The crowds came with their iPads, smartphones and their Zimbabwean flags in support of a detained pastor few had heard of four months ago.
And as darkness fell on Wednesday, some lit candles.
Zimbabweans flocked in their hundreds to a magistrate's court on the ominously-named Rotten Row in central Harare. They came to show support for Evan Mawarire, a 39-year-old church leader arrested on Tuesday on charges of inciting violence after he led calls for national strikes.
As pastors gathered in solidarity, Mawarire's supporters knelt in prayer. Sometimes they sang.
"I've never seen so many pastors together on a non-church event!" church leader Shingi Munyeza quipped on Twitter.
President Robert Mugabe's government had accused Mawarire of leading violent protests. Riot police with their blue helmets and shields massed, but supporters did not turn violent.
Shortly after 19:00, Magistrate Vakayi Chikwekwe ruled that the State had broken its own law and the pastor was free to go. The court house erupted.
A video taken inside the courtroom shows elated supporters, reporters, and others singing a church song. Dozens of lawyers had volunteered to represent the father of two.
On social media, where Mawarire's protest first began in April with a simple Facebook video detailing his frustrations with government corruption and widespread poverty, the reaction was electric.
"We won !!! We matter !!! He's free !!!! Yes !!!!!!!" Zimbabwe hiphop artist and rapper @TehnDiamond tweeted.
Sportscaster @barrymanandi tweeted:
Former Africa editor of the Mail&Guardian, Teldah Mawarire, who is the pastor's sister, said: "Omg!!!! what a day. Evan is FREE!!! Judge says govt broke its own law!!!”
Shortly after lunchtime news broke that the State was amending its charge against him. He would face a much more serious accusation of attempting to subvert a constitutional government. That charge carries a possible 20-year jail term upon conviction.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, whose Harrison Nkomo had argued in court that Mawarire's arrest was unconstitutional, said in an update: "Zimbabwe magistrate faults police for violating Pastor Evan Mawarire's constitutional rights and orders his release... What a day!"
Zanu-PF officials were silent on social media for much of the days.
Minutes after the magistrate's ruling, Higher Education Minister Jonathan Moyo, one of Mugabe's biggest cheerleaders, tweeted, "#Zimbabwe is a constitutional democracy under the rule of law where matters are taken to court & the court decides!"