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Activist Pastor Evan Mawarire leaves the High Court after he was found not guilty of subversion in Harare, Zimbabwe, November 29, 2017. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

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HARARE (Reuters) - A Zimbabwean court found activist pastor Evan Mawarire not guilty of subversion on Wednesday in a case that has been scrutinised as a barometer of independence of the courts under new President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Mawarire has been a strident critic of former President Robert Mugabe, who was forced to resign after 37 years in power last week under pressure from the army and ruling ZANU-PF party.

"This could be evidence of a freer Zimbabwe but this case had no legs to stand on. I think a lot more needs to be seen to determine whether this is a free judiciary going forward," Mawarire told reporters in the court room soon after Judge Priscilla Chigumba's judgement.

Critics allege that Zimbabwe's courts for decades have been used as a tool of political repression.

There was a sigh of relief from the handful of people in the court when the ruling was made.

The pastor's #ThisFlag movement had been a thorn in the side of the former Mugabe government. In 2016, he led a stay-at-home demonstration that lead to the first of his several arrests.

(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Writing by Ed Stoddard; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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Reuters