Martha O’Donovan, 25, moved to Zimbabwe in 2016 after graduating from New York University.
She got a job at Magamba TV which is located in Harare, which is a satirical comedy station. O’Donovan was both a manager at the station and their “media activist.”
Unfortunately, her position has landed her in jail.
The reason behind her arrest was a tweet mocking Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe calling him a sick and selfish man.”
The tweets originated from the @matigary account who began tweeting in 2016. Zimbabwe authorities have said that O’Donovan was the one who wrote them because they came from her IP address. The woman has denied she sent the tweets and in the time that O’Donovan has been in jail, that account has continued to tweet.
The charges are subversion and attempting to overthrow the Mugabe government. She could be facing up to 20 years in prison.
The New Jersey native gave a statement to police calling the allegations “baseless and malicious.” Her attorney, Rose Hanzi, has said the charge is illegal due to the fact that police didn’t inform O’Donovan of it when she was arrested at her home on Friday.
She will get a bail hearing on November 15.
While the State Department has said they are aware of the woman’s predicament, they declined to comment further.
O’Donovan’s arrest comes just a month after Mugabe appointed a cybersecurity minister. At the time activists were worried they would be targeted and it seems they were right to be concerned.
In recent years at least 200 people have been charged with insulting Mugabe according to Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.
“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,” Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director stated.
“Most Zimbabweans do vent on social media about the state of the country, so if they arrest her for this, they might as well arrest all Zimbabweans on social media,” Munya Bloggo, an activist stated. “I don’t think anyone is exempt.”