The government of Zimbabwe has warned that anyone who sells or displays the national flag could face up to a year in prison, after it became a symbol of protest against the regime of President Robert Mugabe.
Sales of the flag boomed after it was worn by the pastor Evan Mawarire in a video despairing at the country’s economic crisis, sparking the #ThisFlag social media movement.
State media outlets have accused protesters of “using the flag to whip up political emotions against the constitutionally elected government”.
And a warning has now been issued reminding citizens that, under Zimbabwean law, it is illegal to “manufacture, sell or use” the flag without the written permission of the Justice Secretary, Virginia Mabhiza.
In a statement on Tuesday, she said: “Members of the public who engage in any action or activity which involves the manufacture, sale or use of the national flag in contravention of the law are therefore warned that they are liable to prosecution and are liable to imprisonment if they are found guilty by a court of law.”
Under the Flag of Zimbabwe Act, the maximum sentence for “bringing it into disrepute” stands at £300 or a prison sentence of one year.
Speaking in Gweru last week, Ms Mabhiza was asked about the use of the flag in protest movements.
Then, she said: “Our flag is very important and we therefore encourage the public to respect it.
“Failure to respect the national flag can land one in prison or be forced to pay a fine of $300 or both. There are certain things that people do that are tantamount to abuse and disrespect of the national flag.”