Martha O’Donovan, an NYU graduate, bartender and journalist for Magamba TV, which produces “satirical comedy sensations,” is in jail. She was arrested at her home in the Zimbabwean capital Harare on Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, for a Twitter rant. The charge is a suspicion of trying to overthrow the country’s government by allegedly insulting President Robert Mugabe, 93, on Twitter.
On Oct. 11, it’s reported O’Donovan, 25, anonymously tweeted that Mugabe is a “very selfish and sick man.” The post even claimed he was surviving on a catheter. Officials say they traced the Twitter account @matigary, which allegedly posted the tweet, to O’Donovan’s address through its IP address. The tweet actually read: “We are being led by a sick and selfish man,” a statement which qualifies as a criminal offense and an attempt to undermine authority and insult the president.
In a statement,O’Donovan said: “I deny the allegations leveled against me as baseless and malicious.”
This is the first arrest of this kind since H.E. Mugabe appointed a minister for cybersecurity last month. According to Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, nearly 200 people have been criminally charged with insulting H.E. Mugabe.
O’Donovan has been working in Zimbabwe for the last year. She is a native of Martinsville, New Jersey. Earlier this year, she presented a talk at a republica digital culture conference on “How Zimbabweans Rebel Online.”
Following a brief hearing in court, O’Donovan was ordered to remain in custody until her next court appearance scheduled for Nov. 15. Her lawyers say they will appeal for her to be granted bail at the High Court on Monday.
A #FreeMartha campaign on social media demanding her release has gone viral. There is no evidence of the tweet online and @Matigari has deleted all of its posts prior to Oct. 27.
O’Donovan faces up to 20 years in prison.