He led a popular uprising against Mugabe. Now he says life is more brutal than ever for Zimbabweans

Zimbabwean pastor and activist Evan Mawarire clutches his Bible after being arrested and sent to Harare's Magistrates Court.

(CNN)It's been just over two months since Zimbabwe's former President Robert Mugabe died, and almost two years since he was ousted from office, but some Zimbabweans say life is tougher than ever.

When Mugabe stepped down unexpectedly in 2017, after 37 years in power, there was widespread jubilation, but that quickly dissipated as it became clear that it was business as usual for the new government.
One of those who shared the initial sense of elation was Evan Mawarire, a pastor, activist and founder of the #ThisFlag movement. Mawarire gained prominence in 2016 when he draped himself in a Zimbabwean flag and railed against government corruption and lack of accountability in an online video.
    His protests became popular and caught the attention of the Mugabe regime who detained him for "inciting public violence." Mawarire was released a day later after mounting public pressure.
      "Seeing Robert Mugabe step down was unbelievable," said Mawarire. "The atmosphere was just euphoric. It was something none of us expected to see in our lifetime."
      "The expectation was that from here on truly things are going to get better because there's no way they can get worse. Robert Mugabe was the worst."

      Fierce crackdown

        However, in the two years since Mugabe's successor Emmerson Mnangagwa has been in power, conditions have deteriorated. Zimbabwe's economy has plummeted further with inflation now hovering around 300%.
        Add to that a fierce crackdown on any type of criticism of the government and the future of Zimbabwe looks bleak.
        "We're in a country where the basic freedoms that are provided for in the constitution for citizens are being blatantly violated. People are not allowed to speak freely, the amount of arrests that have taken place of people who have spoken out or against the government is shocking," said Mawarire.
        Mawarire claims that, "In just two years, Emmerson Mnangagwa has charged more people who have spoken out against the government than Robert Mugabe did in 37 years."
        CNN cannot independently verify those claims. We contacted Zimbabwe's information minister about Mawarire's claims -- but did not receive a response.

        A thorn in government's side

        Mawarire's popularity and calls for justice continue to make him a thorn in the government's side. An online video of him voicing his frustration during protests against a 130% fuel hike in January led to him being arrested and sent to jail once again.
        He, along with trade union leader, Peter Mutasa, were charged with attempting to overthrow the government and sent to the country's notorious Chikurubi maximum security prison.
        Mawarire was released on bail almost two weeks later.
        "It's what I saw in that prison that was deeply, deeply traumatizing and disturbing," Mawawire said.
        "The men who had been arrested and taken from their homes and falsely accused of participating in this protest had been beaten. Many of them had broken limbs and we also had a lot of underage people arrested. I think the youngest was 15 years old."
        That's when Mawarire understood how far the regime was willing to go to silence dissent, he said.

        'A contempt for basic freedoms'

        There have been accusations of a spate of government-sanctioned activist abductions under Mnangagwa's rule. Three months ago, the heads of several civil society organizations said six people were abducted and tortured after clashes ahead of planned opposition protests.
        A well-known comedian, Samantha Kureya, was also reportedly abducted in August after publishing a skit on police brutality. She said she was taken by masked men from her house, assaulted and forced to drink sewage water over several hours, before being dumped naked on the side of the road.
        Amnesty International has also criticized Mnangagwa for his "blatant contempt for basic freedoms."
        In an August 26 statement, Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International's deputy director for Southern Africa said, "What we have witnessed in Zimbabwe since President Emmerson Mnangagwa took power is a ruthless attack on human rights, with the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association increasingly restricted and criminalized.
        "The authorities ... have demonstrated that there is no space for dissent in the so-called 'new dispen