The authorities in Zimbabwe on Tuesday arrested a pastor who organized the country’s largest protests in a decade, and whose activism has galvanized public anger over President Robert Mugabe’s 36-year rule and the nation’s crumbling economy.
The pastor, the Rev. Evan Mawarire, 39, was charged in the capital, Harare, with inciting public violence. The police also searched his home and church, looking for a stolen police helmet and baton as well as subversive material, according to a search warrant.
The police arrested Mr. Mawarire a day before additional protests were planned for Wednesday and Thursday. Last Wednesday, the capital and other cities shut down as many Zimbabweans responded to calls by Mr. Mawarire and other protest leaders to stay home from work.
That boycott appeared to rattle Mr. Mugabe’s government. Members of the country’s governing elite have been consumed by jockeying to succeed Mr. Mugabe, who is 92 and increasingly frail, instead of contending with an economy in precipitous decline and a government unable to pay its workers.
“This anger has been caused by the fact that there is no money,” said Vince Musewe, an economist. “The government and country are broke.”
Mr. Mawarire tapped into that anger, emerging from obscurity in April to become a powerful antigovernment voice. A Pentecostal pastor, Mr. Mawarire began a Twitter campaign under the hashtag #ThisFlag.
His movement struck a chord just as long lines began forming at banks that were running out of cash. In a video he posted on Facebook, Mr. Mawarire wrapped himself in a Zimbabwean flag and railed against the country’s mismanagement and poverty.
His social media campaign drew widespread support, first online and then on the streets.
Before the protest last week, he said, “We have called for a complete shutdown of the country today in protest of the government that has completely failed to look after its citizenry and failed to listen to the demands of its citizenry.”
On Wednesday, access to social media sites was restricted for several hours as the government warned of “gross irresponsible use of social media and telecommunication services.”
Hundreds of demonstrators were arrested after the protest last week, according to Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, a private organization that is representing Mr. Mawarire.
“There is a crisis of confidence,” said Tendai Biti, who served as finance minister during a period of coalition government from 2009 to 2013. “We are in the middle of a recession, government can’t pay salaries —which is a basic responsibility of any government — and all they can think of is arresting people.”