Harare, Zimbabwe – A Zimbabwean High Court judge has granted bail to American journalist Martha O’Donovan, who is facing charges of subversion and insulting President Robert Mugabe on social media.
The ruling was made in her absence on Thursday afternoon where a $1,000 bail was granted on the basis that the state failed to exhibit the contents of the alleged tweets calling on people to protest against the government.
Her lawyer Obey Shava of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, a legal NGO, told Al Jazeera he was pleased with the outcome.
“I am very happy that justice has been done, I’m glad that my client has been vindicated because we have always argued that she was a perfect candidate for bail,” he said outside the courthouse.
O’Donovan, employed as a programme associate of Magamba TV, an online channel that describes itself as Zimbabwe’s leading creator of political satire, was arrested and taken into custody last week over allegations publishing a tweet that described the 93-year-old president as a “goblin”.
Charges of attempting to overthrow a constitutionally elected government were later added to her docket and upheld by the courts.
A subversion charge carries a 20-year prison sentence in the Southern African nation.
Farai Munroe, a local comedian (also known as Comrade Fatso) and co-founder of Magamba TV told Al Jazeera that he was very pleased with the court’s ruling.
“We are all very ecstatic with the bail ruling, everyone at Magamba and everyone that has supported the process.
“I think the judge showed the state lacked a strong case, lacked evidence and we are ecstatic that step one has been achieved in this struggle to free Martha and that is that she has got bail.”
Munroe added: “We are hopeful and confident in going to the next step, that is her getting the charges dropped and getting her out of Chikurubi maximum security prison where she’s been put over a couple of tweets.”
O’Donovan, the 25-year-old journalist, has spent at least three days in Chikurubi Prison, a maximum security facility on the outskirts of the capital, that has gained notoriety among locals for its squalid conditions and frequent food shortages.
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However according to David McGuire, the Public Affairs Officer of the US Embassy in Zimbabwe, representatives from the consular service have maintained “direct and daily contact” with O’Donovan.
She is reportedly in good health.
McGuire added that while he was unwilling to speculate late on the overall outcome of the case, he said however that the US embassy was encouraged by today’s bail ruling and was hopeful of a positive result in the end.
“The US Embassy is watching [this case] very closely and we will stand by the process every step of the way, we are very hopeful for a positive outcome,” he said in a telephone interview.
O’Donovan’s arrest marks the first internet abuse case since the creation of a cybersecurity ministry in a cabinet reshuffle last month.
The Mugabe government says the ministry is designed to monitor cyber security, detect possible threats and breaches of future laws governing social media use.
O’Donovan is expected to report to the police on a bi-weekly basis and submit her travel documents to the clerk of court until the trial, which is set to continue later this month, is over.
Follow Tendai Marima on Twitter and Instagram @i_amten.