Fate of U.S. woman, 25, detained for allegedly insulting Robert Mugabe hangs in the balance as dictator resigns

US citizen, Martha O'Donovan (C), who was arrested for undermining the authority of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe on Twitter, arrives at Harare Magistrate's Court in Harare November 4, 2017. (NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images)

A 25-year-old New Jersey native who was arrested in Zimbabwe after being accused of posting a tweet critical of then-President Robert Mugabe, may find herself still facing up to 20 years of charges even after Mugabe’s ouster by the country’s military. The 93-year-old dictator resigned on Tuesday nearly a week after he was detained by the military, ending his 37-year rule.

Martha O’Donovan, a project officer at a popular Zimbabwean political satire and citizen journalism provider the Magaba Network, was arrested on November 3 after the Twitter account @matigary, which boasts more than 23,000 followers, tweeted, “We are being led by a selfish and sick man.” Prosecutors claimed that the account was linked to O’Donovan’s IP address, but a judge who released her on bail last week said that the state’s case displayed a “patent absence of facts.”

A Magamba colleague of O’Donovan’s, Munya Bloggo, described the charges as “frivolous” and as a “sad and a direct attack on the work that Magamba does.” O’Donovan’s passport has been confiscated by authorities, and she is reportedly facing a possible sentence of 20 years for “subversion” and “undermining authority of or insulting [the] president.” O’Donovan is a Fullbright Scholar and former student at New York University, The New York Post reported, but her legal fate hangs in the balance amid the political turmoil surrounding Mugabe’s downfall. According to the Post, the State Department has intervened on her behalf.

Unfortunately, the removal of Mugabe from power appears as though it might not lead to a reprieve on government attempts to suppress free speech. Last Tuesday, as the military began its ouster of Mugabe, police raided the Magamba Network’s offices and confiscated computers and laptops belonging to its employees.

“Chances are they’ll carry on prosecuting and persecuting,” Dirk Frey, an activist and friend of O’Donovan’s, told The Daily Beast about the charges against her. “In terms of international re-engagement, [if] they want to play nice, then the charges might get dropped.” Her colleagues at Magamba have rallied around her on social media, using the #FreeMartha hashtag to raise awareness about her case.

Read the full story at The Daily Beast.


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