Zimbabwe court grants bail to US journalist charged with subversion

Friday November 10 2017

Martha O'Donovan, a US journalist, arrested for subversion.

Martha O'Donovan, a US journalist, who was arrested for undermining the authority of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe on Twitter, arrives at a Harare court on November 4, 2017. PHOTO | AFP 

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A Zimbabwean High Court judge has released on bail an American woman charged with insulting President Robert Mugabe on social media.

Ms Martha O’Donovan, 25 and a journalist, is also accused of plotting to topple the 93-year-old ruler after her alleged tweets calling on people to protest against him.

On Thursday, Justice Clement Phiri granted her $1,000 bail and ordered her to surrender her passport and report to detectives in Harare twice a week.

Ms O’Donovan was arrested last Friday when police raided her apartment and seized her laptop over allegations she described the veteran ruler as a “goblin” and a “selfish and sick man” on Twitter.

Her lawyer Mr Obey Shava, a human rights advocate, said the prosecution’s arguments that she attempted to overthrow the government were weak.

In his bail ruling, the judge said the prosecution had failed to provide sufficient reason why Ms O’Donovan should be remanded in custody.

The journalist works for Magamba TV, an online channel that describes itself as a leading producer of political satire and comedy.

Drop charges

Meanwhile, Amnesty International urged Zimbabwe to drop the charges against her, describing them as ridiculous.

“Martha O’Donovan should not have spent a single night in jail – expressing an opinion in a tweet is not a crime. Her arrest was the latest example of the authorities’ utter contempt for freedom of expression,” said Cousin Zikalala, the executive director of Amnesty International Zimbabwe.

“We fear she will not be the last to be swept up in the clampdown on social media platforms,” Mr Zikalala said in a statement.

Ms O’Donovan arrest came few weeks after President Mugabe appointed a cybersecurity minister saying there was need to curb abuse of social media.

“We are calling on the Zimbabwean authorities to stop punishing people simply for exercising their freedom of expression. Social media users must not end up in jail simply for sharing their opinions,” Mr Zikalala added.

Ms O'Donovan trial is set to resume later in the month.

She faces a 20-year jail term if found guilty of subversion.