Zimbabwean top writer and Booker Prize nominee, Tsitsi Dangarembga was freed on bail on Saturday following her arrest during anti-government protests a day earlier.
Dangarembga, 61, was charged with incitement to commit violence and breaching anti-coronavirus health regulations after staging a two-women demonstration in Harare which coincided with the second anniversary of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s disputed election.
She was arrested in the upmarket Harare suburb of Borrowdale alongside another protester and hauled into a truck full of police armed with AK-47 rifles and riot gear.
Police had banned the protests called by opposition politician Jacob Ngarivhume, head of a small party called Transform Zimbabwe, against alleged state corruption and the country’s slumping economy.
The government had denounced the protests, calling them an “insurrection”.
The Cambridge-educated author’s arrest came days after her latest novel, “This Mournable Body”, entered the long list for the Booker Prize.
“I’m happy to be out in the fresh air,” Dangarembga told AFP as she left the magistrates’ court.
“It’s a whole experience, something I’ve never gone through,” she said.
She said while the constitution provides for peaceful demonstration, “it seems impossible to do that practically because you run the risk of being arrested if you do it”.
Eleven other people arrested on Friday, including Fadzayi Mahere, a lawyer and spokeswoman for the main opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change-Alliance, were also released on Saturday.
Mahere live-streamed via Facebook images of riot police scaling metal barriers into a suburban eatery to which she had retreated after her protest.
Mahere, 34, walked out of court all the more defiant.
“We should continue to stare the beast in the face. Fear is not an option. We can’t be afraid to speak out against poverty, injustice and corruption,” she told AFP.
The magistrates’ court released the two women on ZW$5,000 (US$65) bail and ordered them to return on September 18.
On Friday, police and soldiers manned road blocks and checkpoints in Harare after earlier warnings of a tough response to “deal decisively with any individuals or groups fomenting violence”.
The warning and the heavy security presence on the streets effectively thwarted the planned nationwide street protests.
Only a handful of people appeared to brave the ban.
Dangarembga was arrested carrying placards calling for reforms and the release of Hopewell Chin’ono, a prominent journalist arrested last week under the government crackdown.
She leapt to prominence in 1988 with “Nervous Conditions”, a coming-of-age story about a girl’s battle to escape poverty and gain an education. The book became an instant classic.
Earlier in the week police published a list of more than a dozen wanted suspects who included opposition labour and rights activists.
Amnesty International has condemned the crackdown on protests and dissent.
“This latest witch-hunt and repression of peaceful dissent is a continuation of what we have seen in the country in recent years, including the abductions and arbitrary arrests of those who are critical of the government,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Southern Africa.
“The brutal assault on political activists and human rights defenders who have had the courage to call out alleged corruption and demand accountability from their government is intensifying,” she said.