Zimbabwe pastor using social media and the national flag rattles Mugabe

(Photo: Human Rights Foundation)Pastor Evan Mawarire

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe holds short shrift for anyone who opposes him and he has vent his wrath on evangelical pastor Evan Mawarire the inspiration of a mass protest movement using social media.

Mugabe has castigated Mawarire who is behind the #ThisFlag social media campaign that denounces the government's management of the economy.

The Zimbabwean president even said he is not a true preacher and accused him of being sponsored by foreign countries bent on destabilising Zimbabwe, which he often uses to deride his opponents.

Mawarire backed a stay-at-home strike earlier this month, one of the largest anti-government protests in years, but he was arrested last week, only to be released when a court threw out the charges.

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The pastor's lawyers convinced the court that the charge of subversion, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment, had been added at the last minute, denying him a fair trial, the BBC reported.

PEACEFUL STAND

Mawarire was first charged with inciting public violence despite calling on Zimbabweans to take a peaceful stand against unemployment and corruption and avoiding directly criticizing the president.

After the court hearing he went to neighboring South Africa as he said he wanted things to cool off.

The 92-year-old Mugabe made his first comments about the #ThisFlag movement that began several months ago, saying that if people like Mawarire did not like living in Zimbabwe, they should go to "the countries of those who are sponsoring them."

Mugabe has ruled with an iron fist since independence from Britain in 1980.

He led the country after a bitter civil war against white settlers who had illegally declared themselves independent trying to prevent the major ruling in the southern African country.

"A man of religion will speak the biblical truth. 1 Corinthians what does it say? Love one another," the president said during an address to thousands of mourners at the funeral of Charles Utete, the country's first black cabinet secretary.

"So beware these men of cloth, not all of them are true preachers of the Bible."

Mugabe accused Mawarire of being a charlatan and he was not sure which God he serves.

"I don't know whether they are serving God... we spell God double G.O.D, they spell God in reverse," he said to cheers from the crowd.

Mawarire has a crowd pulling manner using social media effectively indicating the rise of a new type of leadership in Zimbabwe, wrapping himself in the national flag and posting videos on the Internet that expose the ruling party.

The Human Rights Foundation welcomed the release of Mawarire and the court's ruling that his rights were violated.

"It is encouraging that a Zimbabwean court would order the charges against a prominent critic dropped," said HRF president Thor Halvorssen.

"However, Mawarire should not have been arrested in the first place. His movement called for people to stay home; it is therefore absurd that he was charged with causing public disorder. Zimbabwean authorities must stop arresting peaceful protesters and allow freedom of speech in the country."

Mawarire told South African media that Mugabe's statements had shocked him.

"To hear a head of state talk of something that is an untruth is bad. So this has become a very serious situation for me, and I fear it. I am worried," he said, Nehanda Radio reported.

"The main reason I came here was just to get away from it all, to calm down, relax, clear my head and think clearly about the way forward," he added.

There were reports last week of unidentified men making several visits to his home and church in Harare claiming they were looking for him.

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