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Ex-NJ woman released from Zimbabwe prison — ‘Opinionated and unafraid’

HARARE, Zimbabwe — New Jersey native Martha O’Donovan was released from an African prison after nearly a week when a judge granted bail on Friday.

The 25-year-old social activist did not speak to reporters as she exited the Chikurubi maximum security prison and got into a U.S. Embassy vehicle.

Justice Gregory Phiri approved her bail on Thursday and ordered her to surrender her passport and all travel documents. She must also check in twice a week with police. She will return to court on Wednesday on charges that she is part of a government overthrow plot because she retweeted Twitter messages critical of the president.

NJ’s Martha O’Donovan gets bail, released from brutal jail

Childhood friend Emma, who asked that her last name not be used, told New Jersey 101.5 in an email that she’s known O’Donovan since 5th grade in Bridgewater.

“She’s very personable and can get along with pretty much anyone. She’s always been adventurous and I don’t think any of her friends were all that surprised to hear she moved to another country,” Emma said. “She was always very opinionated, and unafraid to speak about things she truly believed in. She always stood up for her friends, and wasn’t afraid to challenge others opinions. She truly hears out both sides of arguments and she always thought before she spoke.”

Emma was fond of O’Donovan’s family and remembered having playdates at her home in the Martinsville section of Bridgewater.

O’Donovan is accused of sending a message from the Twitter account @matigary that reads, “We are being led by a selfish and sick man.” Prosecutors say she runs “a sophisticated network of social media platforms” for the Magamba Network Trust and @OpenParlyZW, the organization representing her in court.

The Magamba Network describes itself as an organization seeking to bring change the political situation Zimbabwe using “new media, activism and innovation,” according to its website.

Her hearing, which was postponed a day, was delayed several hours on Thursday to allow the judge assigned to her case to hear other cases first.

O’Donovan still faces a possible 20-year sentence on charges she tried to subvert the government and undermine and insult Mugabe in Twitter posts. It’s part of her effort to overthrow the government, the country alleges.

O’Donovan was the first arrest since Mugabe appointed a cybersecurity minister last month, a move criticized by activists as targeting social media. Zimbabwe was shaken last year by the biggest anti-government protests in a decade.

Frustration is growing in the once-prosperous south African nation as the economy collapses under Mugabe, the world’s oldest head of state, who has ruled since 1980. This week his wife, Grace, moved a dramatic step closer to succeeding him as leader after Mugabe fired his deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and accused him of plotting to take power through witchcraft.

Also Friday, state-run newspaper Zimbabwe Herald reported that four people had been arrested and accused of booing the first lady at a ruling party rally over the weekend attended by the president.

Material from the Associated Press was used in in this report.

Do you know Martha O’Donovan? Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanalexanderNJ.

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