American woman, 25, who called 93-year-old African dictator a 'sick man,' released from prison on bail

Published November 10, 2017

An American woman charged with subversion for allegedly tweeting that President Robert Mugabe was a “sick man” was freed from a Zimbabwe jail on $1,000 bail.

Martha O’Donovan, 25, did not speak to reporters as she emerged from a jail in the country’s capital of Harare on Friday and left in a U.S. Embassy vehicle. Her lawyers also did not make any statements. A judge had ordered O'Donovan freed Thursday.

The New Jersey native was imprisoned for nearly a week after she was accused of insulting the 93-year-old Mugabe, calling him a “sick man” in a tweet that included an image of the president with a catheter.

U.S. Citizen Martha O' Donovan, center, appears at the Harare Magistrates court in Harare, Saturday, November, 4, 2017. Police arrested and charged Donavan with subversion for allegedly insulting President Robert Mugabe on Twitter as a "sick man," lawyers said Friday. The offense carries up to 20 years in prison. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

Martha O'Donovan, 25, calls the subversion charge "baseless and malicious."  (AP Photo)

She has denied the charge as “baseless and malicious.”


O’Donovan, who will return to court Wednesday, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of subversion. She also faces a charge of undermining authority or insulting the president, which carries a penalty of up to a year in prison.

The American describes herself as a “media activist” and has been working with local social media outlet Magamba TV, which says it produces “satirical comedy sensations.”

Over the weekend, a local court dismissed an attempt by O’Donovan’s lawyer to have the charge of subversion dismissed, with the lawyer arguing police had not notified her client of the charge at the time of her arrest at her home in Harare.

Amnesty International deputy regional director Muleya Mwananyanda said O’Donovan’s arrest “marks the start of a sinister new chapter in the Zimbabwean government’s clampdown of freedom of speech.”


O’Donovan’s arrest was the first since Mugabe appointed a cybersecurity minister last month, a move activists claim is targeting social media users.

The group representing her, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, says it has represented nearly 200 people charged for allegedly insulting Mugabe in recent years.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, left, and his wife Grace chant the party's slogan during a solidarity rally in Harare, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017. Zimbabwe's president said Wednesday he fired his deputy and longtime ally for scheming to take power, including by consulting witch doctors. Now Mugabe's wife appears poised for the role. (AP Photo)

Four people have reportedly been arrested and accused of booing President Robert Mugabe's wife at a rally over the weekend.  (AP Photo)

Also on Friday, the state-run newspaper, Zimbabwe Herald, reported four people had been arrested after they were accused of booing the first lady at a ruling party rally over the weekend that was attended by the president.

Frustrations have been brewing in the once-prosperous southern African nation as the economy collapses under Mugabe, the world’s oldest head of state, who has ruled since 1980.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.