Two days ago, prominent activist and pastor Evan Mawarire flew home to Zimbabwe. Upon his arrival at Harare International Airport, the police arrested him.

He had fled Zimbabwe to the United States six months ago following harassment and threats to his life by suspected state agents. At the time, he was a leader of the #ThisFlag campaign and protests against President Robert Mugabe’s government, calling on authorities to address Zimbabwe’s rights problems and failing economy.

Pastor Evan Mawarire of the #ThisFlag campaign (Left) meets with Human Rights Watch Senior researcher Dewa Mavhinga in Johannesburg, South Africa, August 2016.

© 2016 Munjodzi Mutandiri

His lawyer (and my former law school classmate), Harrrison Nkomo, told me that nine men in civilian clothes, who refused to identify themselves, arrested Mawarire at the airport Wednesday, just before 5 p.m. He has been in custody ever since.

Today, the magistrates’ court in Harare denied Mawarire bail and returned him to custody until February 17. The charge: subverting a constitutional government, which carries a 20-year prison sentence. A court had cleared Mawarire of the same charge in July 2016. This time around, authorities have added charges of inciting public violence and insulting the national flag.

Instead of this persecution carousel, Zimbabwe’s authorities should drop the sham charges and free Mawarire unconditionally. Perhaps then there can be a real conversation between Evan Mawarire and the government about respect for basic rights and the country’s sustainable development.