US Woman Jailed for Calling African Dictator a ‘Sick Man’ Is Released on Bail
An American woman facing charges of subversion in Zimbabwe for insulting the country’s president was released Friday on $1000 bail.
According to CNN, 25-year-old Martha O’Donovan was granted bail at a court hearing on Thursday, Nov. 9, after being detained on Nov. 3.
“She has been released to US Embassy officials. That’s all we can say,” Kumbirai Mafunda, a spokesman for Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights told CNN.
O’Donovan, a graduate of New York University, allegedly called Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, 93, a “sick man” in a Twitter post that included a photo illustration of Mugabe with a catheter, Fox News reported. But she denied the allegations, calling them “baseless and malicious.”
Her conditions for bail include reporting twice a week to police, surrendering her passport, not interfering with witnesses, and residing at her home until the case is finished, CNN reports. The next hearing in her case is scheduled for next Wednesday.
Defense attorney Obey Shava of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights told CNN on Thursday that the charges against her client were made up.
“There is no substance in what the state is saying,” he told CNN. “It is not Martha O’Donovan which is the real target here. But the whole idea behind the charges is to discourage people from putting their ideas on social media, and it is about a clampdown on social media by the state.”
Although Mugabe was elected democratically, many refer to him as a dictator for using violence to preserve his grip on power, according to the BBC.
According to Fox News, O’Donovan was arrested after Zimbabwe authorities tracked tweets to her IP address.
O’Donovan’s lawyer, Rose Hanzi, told the court that the subversion charge was illegal because police did not inform her of that charge before she was taken from her home in the capital of Zimbabwe, Harare. At the time the court disagreed, ruling for her to remain in custody over the weekend.
She made no statement in court and showed no emotion as the request was dismissed, according to Associated Press. She did wave to a small crowd of supporters as she was escorted into a prison truck.
O’Donovan had been working with a local social media outlet Magamba TV, which described itself as producing “satirical comedy sensations.” She called herself a manager for Magamba TV and a “media activist,” CNN reported.
The American woman’s arrest was the first case since Mugabe appointed a new cybersecurity minister last month. Last year Zimbabwe was had its biggest anti-government protests in a decade amid growing frustration under the collapsing economy, Fox News reported.
The organization representing O’Donovan said they have represented nearly 200 people that were all charged for insulting Mugabe, the world’s oldest head of state, in recent years.
According to Fox News, O’Donovan was going to face 20 years in prison over her charges.
“This arrest marks the start of a sinister new chapter in the Zimbabwean government’s clampdown on freedom of speech, and the new battleground is social media,” said Amnesty International’s deputy regional director, Muleya Mwananyanda, Fox News reported.