3 November 2017

Zimbabwe: Police Arrests U.S. Citizen Over Robert Mugabe 'Goblin' Tweet

Photo: AmnestySARO
Martha O'Donovan granted bail by the High Court of Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe police have detained US citizen Martha O'Donovan for allegedly referring to President Robert Mugabe as a "goblin" on Twitter. It is the first arrest since the launch of a ministry to control social media.

Zimbabwe police on Friday picked up US citizen Martha O'Donovan and seized her laptop during a dawn raid on her home in Harare.

Police accuse O'Donovan of tweeting "We are being led by a selfish and sick man," from the Twitter handle @matigary, said her lawyer, Obey Shava with the group Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR). He added that his client had been charged with insulting the president.

O'Donovan has denied the allegations as "baseless and malicious."

The accused works for social media outlet Magamba TV, which targets youth and describes itself as Zimbabwe's leading producer of political satire.

She is also alleged to have referred to Mugabe in a tweet as a "goblin whose wife and step-son bought a Rolls-Royce."

"The reported offensive and insulting tweet does not make any mention of the president's name," ZLHR said in a statement.

The alleged tweet follows online reports that Mugabe's two sons, Robert Jr and Chatunga, have imported at least one luxury vehicle from neighboring South Africa.

Clampdown on social media

The arrest is first since the appointment of a minister for cybersecurity a few weeks ago. The move came under severe criticism from activists who said it was an attempt to gag social media users.

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

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

If convicted, O'Donovan faces a maximum of one year in jail, her lawyer said.

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