President Robert Mugabe
Zimbabwe is launching an apparent crackdown on anyone insulting President Robert Mugabe, who has just celebrated his 92nd birthdayALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images

Police in Zimbabwe have arrested and charged staff at a school for allegedly posting satirical images of President Robert Mugabe on Facebook in an apparent crackdown on dissent in the country.

The accused staff at the Shamva Primary School in Mashonaland Central province, include the head teacher, Edson Chuwe, typist Edna Garwe and Leman Pwanyiwa, the school's development committee secretary. They have been charged with "undermining the authority of or insulting President Mugabe", according to local media Radio VOP.

Local police said that they reportedly received a tip-off about the photos on 5 February that the three staff had "doctored" allegedly degrading images of Zimbabwe's leader. It is believed that the satirical images were created using a school computer.

Police have also said that a message between Pwanyiwa and Chuwe via WhatsApp was found that allegedly stated: "Mr President isn't it time to bid farewell to the people of Zimbabwe?" A further search of Pwanyiwa's phone reportedly found a video of a speech delivered by Mugabe's wife during a rally, which police say he sent to Chuwe with the comment: "They are not bothered by the collapse of the economy."

The doctored images were said to have been made between June and November 2015. Police are said to have been alerted to the incident by a former employee at the school. The employee, who reportedly worked in the school's computer laboratory, allegedly found the photos on Chuwe and Garwe's mobile phones. The employee was reportedly said to have been fired by Chuwe for an incident that allegedly involved tampering with official documents.

Police have also accused Pwanyiwa of having a doctored image that is said to have portrayed President Mugabe being kicked by a white man. Other images are said to show Muagbe sitting down naked and wearing beads, with a caption that stated "Mambo wedu (our king)", as well as one where the leader is seen posing with American pop star Rihanna. Prosecutors believe that this photo suggested that Mugabe was in love with the singer.

The three accused school staff members were released on bail on 11 February following the intervention of human rights lawyers, Radio VOP reported. They are due to return to court on 8 March when magistrates are expected to rule on their application for refusal of further remand. The application is being opposed by state prosecutors.