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Trump administration condemns arrest of two Christian pastors in Zimbabwe

(Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko)Zimbabwean Pastor Evan Mawarire poses for a photograph after his interview with Reuters in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 19, 2016.

U.S. President Donald Trump's administration has raised concerns over the human rights situation in Zimbabwe following the arrests of two prominent pastors who have protested against Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's regime.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe's capital of Harare issued a statement condemning the arrest of Pastors Evan Mawarire and Philip Patrick Mugadza, News 24 reported.

Mugadza was arrested last month after he "prophesied" that Mugabe would die before the end of the year. He was charged with "criminal insult," as well as undermining the authority of the president. He is facing six months imprisonment or a fine of $200 if convicted.

Mawarire, the founder of the #ThisFlag movement, was arrested last week when he made a surprise return to the country following a self-imposed exile in the U.S. He was charged with subverting a constitutionally elected government, and he could face 20 years' imprisonment if convicted.

On Wednesday, a judge ordered Mawarire to be released on a $300 bail. The pastor was ordered to surrender his passport and report to the police twice a week.

U.S. embassy spokesperson David Mcguire described the arrests of the two men as "unwarranted."

"The US government unequivocally believes in the basic right of freedom of speech and calls on the government of Zimbabwe to respect the human rights of all Zimbabweans which are enshrined in the constitution," said Mcguire.

"We believe that the basic right of Zimbabweans to freedom of speech - be it in public, through print media or social media - should be protected within and outside Zimbabwe's borders," he added.

In response to the statement, an official from the Mugabe administration criticized the U.S. government, saying it is quick to accuse other nations of human rights abuses every time its attempt at regime change is thwarted.

Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Permanent Secretary George Charamba said that whoever issued the statement was not competent to talk about the human rights situation in Zimbabwe.

He asserted that the statement came from an official appointed by former President Barack Obama whose future is uncertain in the new administration.

"Whoever that person is, is a left over from a terrible era. Is it because this person is their agent?" he said. "He thinks he can boss over us. They can go and hang on a banana tree," he added.

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