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#ThisFlag Pastor Evan Mawarire Has Just Been Detained At Harare Airport

After widespread disappointment when he left for the US, Mawarire was attempting to make a quiet re-entrance to pick up where he left off as an activist.

01/02/2017 18:02 SAST | Updated 01/02/2017 18:44 SAST
MUJAHID SAFODIEN via Getty Images
Zimbabwean Pastor Evan Mawarire addresses students during a lecture at Wits University in Johannesburg, on July 28, 2016.

#ThisFlag pastor Evan Mawarire was detained at Harare International Airport on Wednesday early evening after trying to re-enter his native country following a self-imposed exile in the United States.

Mawarire's sister, Teldah Mawarire, confirmed to The Huffington Post South Africa that her brother left Johannesburg "quietly" earlier today and flew to Harare. His flight landed just before 5pm.

"We understand from his lawyer that he is being held but we have no further information."

Evan Mawarire, 39, was a professional MC and part-time pastor when he inadvertently sparked a national protest movement. He uploaded a spoken word video to YouTube in April 2016 with a Zimbabwean flag draped over his shoulder, expressing his bitter disappointment with the country's direction.

Many Zimbabweans soon emulated him, putting up photos and videos showing themselves draped in their national flag, reclaiming it as a symbol of national pride and heartbreak over what has happened in their country.

Zimbabwe has experienced economic turmoil and human rights violations under President Robert Mugabe's authoritarian rule. The 92-year-old has been in power since 1980, first as prime minister and later as president. Opposition to his rule has invited harsh crackdowns, and Mawarire immediately became a target when his video went viral, sparking the #ThisFlag movement.

In July 2016 he was arrested and charged with treason, but the charged were dropped after several thousand people protested outside the Harare Magistrate's Court for his remand hearing.

It was a moment of revival for the Zimbabwean people, who came together in unprecedented ways both under #ThisFlag and for Mawarire's release.

But the threats to his family and person prompted Mawarire to leave to the US just two days later, causing bitter disappointment among his supporters and critics calling him out for abandoning the movement. There were concerns the movement would suffer without him.

It appears Mawarire decided to return to continue what he had started, despite the concerns over his safety.

He confirmed to the Daily Maverick earlier today that he was "going home", admitting he was nervous about what could happen to him when he arrived.

"I arrive at the airport and I get questioned. I arrive at the airport and I get arrested," he predicted. "[Or] I arrive at the airport and they ignore me. I go to my house, and they arrest me there a few days later. Or they abduct me, which is even worse. Or maybe they just ignore me completely. I just don't know what is going to happen."

But he said he had to return home, hinting at a run for public office as an independent candidate, an option he has eschewed before. He told Daily Maverick he is likely to run as an independent instead of joining an established political party. Zimbabwe's next presidential election is planned for 2018.

"Zimbabwe is home for me and my family. That's the place where we have a right to be without acquiring a visa, we are citizens of Zimbabwe. The president of Zimbabwe made comments to the effect that I was not welcome in Zimbabwe, but he doesn't get to make that decision for me. I have not committed a crime, I'm not a fugitive, I'm a citizen, and an upstanding citizen for that matter."

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