Zimbabwean pastor and protest organizer is released on bail

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) " A Zimbabwean pastor arrested for organizing anti-government protests said Thursday he was looking forward to getting cleaned up after being released on bail from a maximum-security prison.

Evan Mawarire, who launched a protest movement on social media called #ThisFlag, was detained Feb. 1 after returning from months in the United States. He faces charges of subverting a constitutionally elected government. If convicted, he could go to prison for 20 years.

"I am looking forward to taking a shower," Mawarire told reporters after leaving Chikurubi Maximum Prison. He also said he was looking forward to some rest and time with his family.

A judge ruled Wednesday that Mawarire does not pose a flight risk and that he should be released on $300 bail, while surrendering his passport and reporting twice a week to police. The prosecutor had described him as a "terrorist."

The charges against Mawarire arise partly from his role in organizing protests against Zimbabwe's 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe during the U.N. General Assembly in September, according to Mawarire's lawyer, Harrison Nkomo.

There were no crowds to support the pastor upon his release, in contrast to the rapturous reception he got from government opponents when he appeared in court last year because of his protest efforts.

Mawarire has become a subject of heated social media debate since his return. Some resent the fact that he left the country at a time when many Zimbabweans were protesting or didn't have the means to go abroad. He has said he left for his security.

Others continue to support Mawarire, calling him courageous.

Mugabe, in power since independence in 1980, faces a brewing succession battle within the ruling ZANU-PF party amid economic turmoil. Police cracked down on last year's protests, and Mugabe said people unhappy with Zimbabwe's situation should leave.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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