US woman jailed after tweet called insulting to Zimbabwe ruler

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, one of Africa's longest-serving leaders, has ruled since 1980.

Story highlights

  • Martha O'Donovan is first to be prosecuted since creation of cybersecurity ministry
  • American denies accusation of subversion, must apply for bail at Zimbabwe's Hight Court

(CNN)An American woman in Zimbabwe has been sent to prison after reportedly tweeting that President Robert Mugabe -- one of Africa's longest-serving leaders -- is "a selfish and sick man," according to court documents.

Accused of subversion, Martha O'Donovan, 25, who works for an satirical video website, was referred to Zimbabwe's highest court Saturday for a bail application, according to court documents released by the group Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.
O'Donovan is the first to be accused of plotting to overthrow the government since last month's creation of a cybersecurity ministry intended to police social media.
    Her tweet read, "'We are being led by a selfish and sick man," according to the court documents.
    In the court papers, O'Donovan said, "I deny the allegations being leveled against me as baseless and malicious. That is all I wish to say."
    She will be held in prison while Zimbabwe's High Court considers her bail status. If convicted of subversion, she faces 20 years in prison.
    "You have to approach the High Court for bail since you are facing a third-schedule offense," Magistrate Nomsa Sabarauta told O'Donovan during a court appearance Saturday, referring to the most serious category of criminal offenses.
    O'Donovan showed no emotion at the time of the ruling. Her attorneys unsuccessfully argued that the subversion charge seemed to come as an afterthought.
    When the Ministry for Cyber Security, Threat Detection and Mitigation was announced last month, presidential spokesman George Charamba told reporters that the new office was intended to "trap all rats" that abused social media.
    Mugabe has long been criticized for corruption and abuse of power.
    At 93, he has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980 with little opposition.
    The World Health Organization came under fire last month after selecting Mugabe as a goodwill ambassador.
    Public disapproval, however, prompted WHO's director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, to say on Twitter that he was "rethinking" the decision.