A ZIMBABWEAN court on Thursday 04 January 2018 set free Martha O’Donovan, an American citizen, who was arrested last year and charged with subverting a constitutional government and undermining authority of or insulting Robert Mugabe, the country’s former President.
Harare Magistrate Rumbidzai Mugwagwa removed O’Donovan from remand after she granted an application filed by her lawyers Roselyn Hanzi and Obey Shava from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, who had challenged the continued placement of their client on remand without being given a trial date.
Hanzi and Shava had on Friday 08 December 2017 filed an application for refusal of remand on the basis that the State wasn’t ready to proceed to trial and that prosecutors had insufficient evidence to sustain the charges levelled against O’Donovan.
At her last appearance in court on Friday 08 December 2017, Magistrate Mugwagwa had made a determination that she was giving the State one last chance to put its house in order, failure of which she would set O’Donovan free.
On Thursday 04 January 2018, Magistrate Mugwagwa ended the persecution of O’Donovan and ordered the State to proceed by way of summons if it intends to pursue with prosecuting the American citizen.
O’Donovan was arrested on Friday 03 November 2017 and charged with subverting constitutional government as defined in section 22(2)(a) (1) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, Chapter 9:23 and undermining authority of or insulting the President in contravention of section 33 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, Chapter 9:23.
Prosecutors claimed that O’Donovan undermined authority of or insulted Mugabe through posting a message on micro blogging site Twitter, which reads “We are being led by a selfish sick man,” which included a picture illustration of the former ZANU PF party leader with a catheter.
The prosecutors charged that the message allegedly posted by the American citizen was abusive, indecent and obscene and aimed at undermining authority of or insulting Mugabe.
The prosecutors also claimed that O’Donovan “systematically sought to incite political unrest through the expansion, development and use of a sophisticated network of social media platforms as well as running some Twitter accounts under the handle Magamba Network Trust, @Matigary and OpenParlyZw with a view to overthrow or attempt to overthrow the government by unconstitutional means”.
The prosecutors charged that O’Donovan was the mastermind behind an organised social media campaign aimed at overthrowing or attempting to overthrow the government by unconstitutional means and was the “central component” in a highly organised attempt to replicate offline uprisings like what happened in Tunisia and Egypt”.
The American citizen became the first person to be arrested and charged with abuse of social media since the Zimbabwean government established a Ministry of Cyber Security, Threat Detection and Mitigation in October.