By Professor Matodzi
Harare, November 20, 2016 – KARIBA based preacher and rights activist, Pastor Philip Mugadza was on Friday arrested and charged for allegedly wearing the national flag over his shoulders without seeking permission from Zimbabwean authorities.
He was however freed on bail when he appeared before a Harare magistrate on Saturday.
Prosecutors claimed that Mugadza, who has since last year been staging one-man protests against President Robert Mugabe’s government, contravened Section 6 of the Flag of Zimbabwe Act by unlawfully and intentionally wearing or displaying the national flag without securing prior permission from the “secretary” as required by the controversial law.
The prosecutors charged that Mugadza insulted, showed disrespect for the flag and brought the flag into disrepute.
According to authorities, Mugadza faces a $200 fine or six months imprisonment if found guilty.
The outspoken clergyman, who was represented by Jeremiah Bamu, Obey Shava and Dorcas Chitiyo of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), was set free on $50 bail by Harare Magistrate Vakayi Chikwekwe who remanded him out of custody to November 29.
The use of the Zimbabwean flag as a symbol of resistance against the current government was popularised by the now exiled Zimbabwean Pastor Evan Mawarire through his #ThisFlag campaign, a platform for national resistance against President Mugabe’s dictatorial rule.
Since the time, different activist groups and some opposition politicians now wear it around their necks during protests, something that has riled the Zanu PF led government.
The Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs September this year announced it was criminal for locals to “abuse” the national flag.
Ministry secretary Virginia Mabhiza said people who participated in any action or activity involving the national flag or bring the national flag into disrepute were liable to prosecution.
“Members of the public who engage in any action or activity, which involves the manufacture, sale or use of the national flag in contravention of the law are therefore warned that they are liable to imprisonment if they are found guilty by a court of law,” Mabhiza said.
However, the state has been criticised for selective application of the law as Zanu PF in 2013 printed quantities of the national flag in China which it distributed to party supporters during the party’s campaign for re-election.
Confusion has also followed the decree as some sports fanatics have been allowed to carry the national flag during international matches involving Zimbabwe.