American Journalist Martha O’Donovan Jailed for ‘Insulting’ Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Twitter

Facebook profile photo of Martha O'Donovan, 25, with a big smile, dressed in sweater, grasping a scarf around her neck
U.S. citizen Martha O'Donovan, the 25-year-old activist and journalist jailed for allegedly insulting Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, on Twitter (via Facebook)
Police arrested U.S. citizen Martha O'Donovan, 25, in Harare, Zimbabwe, on November 3 for allegedly insulting Robert Mugabe, the African nation's corrupt, 93-year-old dictator.

If you need another reason to be thankful for the First Amendment, look no further than the tale of Martha O’Donovan, a 25-year-old American journalist and activist recently jailed in Zimbabwe for allegedly insulting that nation’s corrupt dictator on Twitter.

The New Jersey native and New York University grad faces a possible 20 years in prison on charges of attempting to overthrow the government of Zimbabwe’s 93-year-old president, Robert Mugabe, who has been in power for more than 35 years. The debacle began on Friday, November 3, when the Zimbabwe Republic Police arrested O’Donovan in a dawn raid on her Harare residence, where they confiscated her laptop and other electronic devices.

The initial charge: “Undermining authority of or insulting President,” which under Zimbabwe’s legal code is punishable by up to a year’s imprisonment. Authorities claim O’Donovan tweeted out a photo of Mugabe via the Twitter account @matigary on October 11, with the suggestion that the aging autocrat wears a catheter and stating, “We are being led by a selfish and sick man.”

Tweet showing Robert Mugabe seated with other dignitaries and an illustration of a catheter, implying that Mugabe wears one.
Zimbabwe authorities initially arrested O’Donovan in response to this tweet, which they deemed an insult to President Robert Mugabe (screenshot via

Police later charged O’Donovan, who reportedly works for the political satire outlet Magamba TV and also has a job tending bar in a Harare suburb, with having set up Magamba and other social-media outlets as a means of overthrowing the government — an offense that carries a possible punishment of up to two decades in a Zimbabwe prison. The @matigary Twitter account has continued to tweet throughout O’Donovan’s detention.

The Daily Mail offered one of the more detailed reports about the charges against O’Donovan; a November 4 story in the British tabloid quotes O’Donovan calling the charges against her “baseless and malicious.” She remains in custody pending a bail hearing. Meanwhile, the hashtag #FreeMartha has gone viral, with people worldwide demanding her release.

Per the Daily Mail:

O’Donovan’s case highlights the growing concern for human rights in Zimbabwe where hundreds have been prosecuted for appearing to undermine or insult Mugabe.

“This arrest marks the start of a sinister new chapter in the Zimbabwean government’s clampdown on freedom of speech, and the new battleground is social media,” said Amnesty International’s deputy regional director, Muleya Mwananyanda….

Martha O’Donovan is not the first journalist or American citizen to be held in Zimbabwe under charges against the president.

Mugabe and the country’s police force [have] a long history of arresting journalists covering elections in the country or others who speak out against the government.

It was not immediately clear on Saturday where O’Donovan will be held until her bail hearing but it is likely she is being kept at Harare Central Prison, a notorious complex which is known for overcrowding and “decrepit” conditions.

Since her detention, the New York Post has interviewed friends of O’Donovan, who describe her as “tenacious” and say she has been maintaining a good attitude despite her ordeal.

While you’re envisioning how crowded U.S. jails would be if this country were to incarcerate every American who has “insulted” President Donald Trump on Twitter, you can follow these links for #FreeMartha updates on Twitter: @MagambaTV and @ComradeFatsooo (MagambaTV co-founder).

Click the link below to read the Daily Mail story in its entirety:

“US Journalist, 25, Is Thrown in Hellhole Zimbabwe Jail and Faces 20 Years for Tweet Mocking Mugabe”

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About Stephen Lemons

Stephen Lemons is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than 20 years of experience covering everything from government corruption to white-supremacist gangs. In addition to Front Page Confidential, his work has appeared in Phoenix New Times, the Los Angeles Times,, and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report magazine.