Pastor Evan Mawarire

TRAILBLAZING social activist and cleric, Evan Mawarire has been nominated for the prestigious 2017 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards.

This came as Mawarire’s bail appeal hearing at the High Court failed to take off yesterday, as the State and defence counsels haggled over procedural irregularities.

Mawarire, leader of the #ThisFlag campaign, leads a cast which also includes Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian Kurdish journalist, who documents the life of indefinitely-interned Australian asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea; China’s Wang Liming, a famed political cartoonist known as Rebel Pepper; Ildar Dadin, an imprisoned Russian opposition activist, who became the first person convicted under the country’s public assembly law; Daptar, a Dagestani initiative tackling women’s issues like female genital mutilation; and Serbia’s Crime and Corruption Reporting Network (KRIK).

The Index on Censorship said the nominees were drawn from more than 400 crowd-sourced nominations. The shortlist celebrates artists, writers, journalists and campaigners overcoming censorship and fighting for freedom of expression against immense obstacles.

“Many of the 16 shortlisted nominees are regularly targeted by authorities or by criminal and extremist groups for their work, some face regular death threats, others criminal prosecution or exile,” Index on Censorship said.

Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive officer of Index on Censorship, added: “The creativity and bravery of the shortlist nominees in challenging restrictions on freedom of expression reminds us that a small act — from a picture to a poem — can have a big impact. Our nominees have faced severe penalties for standing up for their beliefs. These awards recognise their courage and commitment to free speech.”

Mawarire drew President Robert Mugabe’s ire after a seemingly innocuous social media rant turned into a national rallying point for dissent against the veteran ruler’s government last year. The cleric then led demonstrations against corruption and other ills for which he was arrested by the authorities. Charges against Mawarire collapsed before he abruptly left the country.

On his return last week after half a year in self-imposed exile in the United States of America, Mawarire was arrested and charged.

His bail appeal hearing has been rolled over to today.

Mawarire approached the High Court seeking to be released on bail, after his initial application was dismissed by a Harare magistrate last Friday.

When the matter was brought before High Court judge, Justice Clement Phiri, yesterday, State representative, Edmore Nyazamba told the court he had not filed his response to the application because the defence papers were not in order.

“The applicant (Mawarire) did not sign a declaration confirming what his lawyers were saying in court. It’s one of the requirements according to the High Court rules. The State will file its response once the issues we raised are attended to,” he said.

But, Mawarire’s lawyer, Harrison Nkomo, dismissed Nyazamba’s assertions, accusing the State of stalling the process by failing to file its response to the application.

“It’s not a strict requirement that our client must sign an affidavit. We failed to proceed because the State did not file its response to our application. Otherwise we were prepared to argue and ready to go. Even now, we are ready, we are not going to do anything because our papers are in order,” he said.

If convicted of the offence, Mawarire is likely going to face a stiff penalty of not less than
20 years behind bars, as the offence does not provide an option of a fine.