USA citizen arrested in Zimbabwe for allegedly insulting Mugabe

Zimbabwean police on Friday charged USA human rights activist and television producer Martha O'Donovan with attempting to overthrow the government of President Robert Mugabe by allegedly sending out a tweet deemed to be offensive, according to lawyers. She was charged Saturday with insulting the president and subversion, which carries sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Martha O'Donovan, who works for Magamba TV, a satirical comedy station, was arrested Friday during a dawn raid at her Harare residence and was detained at a police station.

O'Donovan is accused of calling 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe a "sick man" in a Twitter post that included a photo illustration of the president with a catheter.

Her lawyer, Rose Hanzi, has argued that the charge is illegal because the police did not inform O'Donovan of it when she was taken Friday morning from her home in the capital, Harare.

Obey Shava with the group Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights tells The Associated Press the charges are in addition to ones of undermining the authority of or insulting the president. It is the first arrest since the launch of a ministry to control social media.

The 25-year-old Martha O'Donovan denies the charges as "baseless and malicious".

The US embassy in Harare confirmed O'Donovan's arrest and said it was monitoring the situation closely.

She is also alleged to have referred to Mugabe in a tweet as a "goblin whose wife and step-son bought a Rolls-Royce".

O'Donovan works as a producer and project officer with local television network Magamba, which produces satirical content for distribution by Facebook and YouTube, created to provoke activism and open up Zimbabwe's democratic space.

One month ago, Mugabe appointed a cybersecurity minister to police social media.

Zimbabwe was shaken past year by the biggest anti-government protests in a decade.

The court disagreed. Ms O'Donovan will remain in custody over the weekend, and her lawyers say they will ask the High Court for Bail on Monday.

  • Rogelio Becker