American in Zimbabwe is jailed for tweets about Mugabe

Violet Powell
November 5, 2017

Rights lawyers in Zimbabwe say this is the first arrest for a social media-related offence after President Mugabe created a Cyber Security Ministry in October.

Martha 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 Mugabe with a catheter. She was charged Saturday with insulting the president and subversion, which carries sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

An American woman charged with subversion in Zimbabwe for allegedly insulting the president on Twitter has appeared in court.

According to Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights - the organisation representing Ms O'Donovan in her case - she was arrested in a Friday morning raid on her apartment and held at the Harare Central Police Station overnight. He added that his client had formally been charged with insulting the president.

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

"I deny the allegations being leveled against me as baseless and malicious", CNN reported O'Donovan said, according to court papers.

Russell Goreraza, who is Mugabe's stepson with his wife, Grace, recently imported two Rolls-Royce vehicles into the country, the Guardian reported.

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It was the first arrest made since Mugabe last month appointed a minister for cybersecurity, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said, a move criticized by activists as aimed at clamping down on social media users.

O'Donovan had been working with local social media outlet Magamba TV, whose target audience is youth, Shava said.

Zimbabwe authorities say they believe O'Donovan is the author of the tweet on October 11 based on her IP address.

Social media posts played a major role in fueling major anti-government protests in Zimbabwe a year ago.

Earlier this year, she presented a talk on "How Zimbabweans Rebel Online" at the Re-publica Digital Culture Conference.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights says it has represented almost 200 people charged for allegedly insulting Mugabe, the world's oldest head of state, in recent years.

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