A court in Zimbabwe has acquitted embattled Pastor Evan Mawarire who was arrested for criticizing president Robert Mugabe.
The court on Wednesday found Mr. Mawarire not guilty of subversion.
“There is no evidence that he [Mawarire] urged a violent removal of the government,” High Court judge Priscilla Chigumba said in her ruling.
The judge said Mawarire had called for non-violent protests in response to the country’s economic crisis.
Mawarire became the face of anti-Mugabe demonstrations last year when he posted an internet video of him wearing the national flag and lamenting Zimbabwe’s troubles.
The video inspired the #ThisFlag movement that led mass protests across the country.
Authorities responded by banning street protests in Harare and what they deemed “abuse” of the national flag.
Speaking after the ruling, Evam Mawarire said: “The whole journey has been absurd.”
“I should not have been in the dock at all. I should never have had to spend 11 months trying to defend myself from exercising my constitutional rights,” he said.
“One hopes that as our country changes and begins to move forward that things like this should never ever be allowed to happen.”
The case had been scrutinized as a barometer of independence of the courts under new President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Critics allege that Zimbabwe’s courts for decades have been used as a tool of political repression. There was, however, a huge sigh of relief from the handful of people in the court when the ruling was made.
“This could be evidence of a freer Zimbabwe but this case had no legs to stand on. I think a lot more needs to be seen to determine whether this is a free judiciary going forward,” Mawarire told reporters in the courtroom.
He promised to continue his protests if the new government continues as the previous one.
“If they do to us what Robert Mugabe’s government did to us, we will do the same thing to them,” Mawarire said.