Evan Mawarire had faced up to 20 years in jail for organizing last year's #ThisFlag protests. In the court room, Mawarire encouraged President Mnangagwa to exercise judicial independence.
Pastor Evan Mawarire (above right) was found not guilty of subversion by a court in Zimbabwe on Wednesday. The 40-year-old activist urged the new administration under President Emmerson Mnangagwa to drop other cases similar to his.
"If they [the new government] do to us what [ex-President] Robert Mugabe's government did to us, we will do the same thing to them that we have done to Robert Mugabe," Mawarire told reporters in the court room.
"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 rose to international promise last year as the leader of the #ThisFlag protest movement against Mugabe's rule, the biggest protests Zimbabwe had seen in over a decade.
High Court Judge Priscilla Chigumba said that the state had not provided sufficient evidence to prove Mawarire had incited people to public violence or promoted the disruption of the country's democracy.
"He urged passive resistance, he urged prayers for peace. How can prayers for peace be considered an unconstitutional means of removing a constitutional government?" Chigumba said.
Mawarire had faced up to 20 years in jail if convicted.
Amnesty International voiced cautious optimism in a statement, describing Mawarire as "an innocent victim of Mugabe's ruthless campaign to criminalize dissent."
"Hopefully the ruling signals a new beginning for the country, where the political repression which characterized Mugabe's rule will no longer be tolerated," Amnesty's director for southern Africa, Deprose Muchena, said.
Yet despite Wednesday's verdict, Mugabe's longtime enforcer and former deputy Mnangagwa is hardly a fresh face in politics.
Voting rights extended
In a separate ruling on Wednesday, a court extended voting rights to so-called "aliens" – the children of foreign parents born in Zimbabwe. The move could prove a decisive blow to Mnangagwa's ZANU-PF party, which many immigrants say have purposely kept them from voting.
"They are Zimbabweans by birth and they should not be discriminated against," said Judge Nyaradzo Munangati Manongwa according to German news agency DPA.
According to the main opposition party MDC, there are about 2 million "aliens" in Zimbabwe who will now be able to vote in the country's general election set for 2018.
es/msh (AP, dpa, Reuters)