Zimbabwe targets flag protesters with jail threat

September 21, 2016 4:55 AM EDT

A man with a Zimbabwean flag wrapped around him throws stones at police officers during a protest against President Robert Mugabe's government's handling of the economy in Harare, Zimbabwe August 3, 2016. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo


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HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's government has threatened to jail anyone who disrespects the national flag or sells it without permission, enraging activists who have used the banner as a rallying point for mass protests.

The state has been struggling to contain months of demonstrations against financial chaos and corruption - many of the rallies organized by the online #ThisFlag campaign.

Protesters have regularly waved the green, yellow and red flag and marched with it draped around their shoulders, answering pastor Evan Mawarire's call in an online video to take pride in their flag and the ideals it embodied.

"Members of the public who participate in any action or activity involving the national flag or to bring the national flag into disrepute are warned that they are liable to prosecution," Virginia Mabiza, a senior official in the Justice Ministry, said in a statement released late on Tuesday.

The government would make use of an existing law that bans production and sale of the flag without the Justice Ministry's permission, she said.

Under the law, it was an offense to "burn, mutilate or otherwise insult the national flag", and anyone convicted would face a $200 fine, up to six months in jail or both, the statement added.

Promise Mkwananzi, leader of #Tajamuka movement, which has used social media to organize protests together with the #ThisFlag, said his group would continue to use the flag.

"It is total insanity that government should ban citizens from using their own flag. We are going to continue to make use of our flag. It is our identity," Mkwananzi told Reuters.

(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by James Macharia and Andrew Heavens)



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