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MPs pass gagging law



ZIMBABWE’S Parliament this week passed another draconian law that seeks to stop criticism of the government while hiding behind patriotism, according to critics.

The Criminal Law Code Amendment Bill, also known as the “Patriotic Bill” sailed through the National Assembly on Wednesday night and is now expected to go before the Senate before presidential assent.

This Bill sets out that Zimbabwe’s constitutional order that is based on parliamentary democracy affords many avenues for aggrieved citizens to redress their wrong internally, including against the state.

“It is therefore improper for citizens and residents of Zimbabwe by recourse to foreign countries to seek to implement measures that undermine our sovereignty, dignity and independence as a nation,” reads part of the bill.

Therefore, the Bill will create the crime of “willfully damaging the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe.”

This is the “patriot” part of the Bill.

It will be an offence for a Zimbabwean, to take an active part in a meeting involving or convened by an agent of a foreign government, if the citizen or resident knows or has reason to believe that the object of the meeting is to consider or plan armed intervention in Zimbabwe by the foreign government, or to subvert or overthrow the constitutional Zimbabwean government.

One will be under fire if the meeting is found to have been aimed at implementing or extending sanctions or a trade boycott against Zimbabwe,an individual or  to an extent that it will affect a substantial section of the people of Zimbabwe.

“This Bill may hurt other people but it is a noble Bill with good intentions. The Bill encourages us to be patriotic about our country irrespective of our party affiliations,” said Zanu PF lawmaker Joseph Chinotimba.

“This Bill is not meant to curtail the existence of political parties but it is there to encourage the people of Zimbabwe to love their country and stop denouncing it.”

“The Bill seeks to discourage those people who go about saying bad things about their country.”

“As such, this Bill discourages all those people to say bad things about their country. The Bill wishes to impart a sense of belonging and love for one’s country,” he said.

However, government critics feel the Bill was designed to silence civil society organisations ahead of the 2023 plebiscite.

They also feel the Bill was designed to punish citizens in general hiding behind patriotism.

“It is an unconstitutional law. It’s a bad law and it infringes on freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association …all sorts of civil and political rights are infringed by this type of Bill.

“In my estimation, this Bill is the most draconian law that we have seen in Zimbabwe,” said Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum director Musa Kika.

The penalty for meetings considered to be offensive will differ according to the object of the gathering.

If the object of the meeting is to consider or plan armed intervention, the penalty for participating in it is the same as for treason.

The penalty, according to the Bill, includes a death sentence or imprisonment for life.

If one attends a meeting which will be considered to have been driven by an intention to subvert or overthrow the government, one will face up to 20 years.

If the meeting is about sanctions or a trade boycott, the penalty for participating in it is a fine of up to ZW$200 000 or imprisonment for up to 10 years or both.

According to the Bill, if the crime is committed in aggravating circumstances and if the prosecutor so requests, the court may impose any of the following penalties including deprivation of citizenship, if the convicted person is a citizen by registration or a dual citizen.

The penalty will also include cancellation of residence rights, if the convicted person is a permanent resident of Zimbabwe, prohibition from being registered as a voter or from voting, for a period between five and 15 years, or prohibition from holding public office for a period between five and 15 years.

The majority of MPs from Zanu PF voted yes for the Bill while only 17 opposition lawmakers voted no.

Tempers flared during the debate and resulted in independent lawmaker Temba Mliswa being kicked out.

“I just want to say people do not know what is going on. As for me, as an independent member, these are party people.

“I will pack my bags and go. Let history be known that I was not part of this commotion and circus, ever. So, I wish you all the best in signing this Bill.

“I am not part of this Bill, and will never be part of this mess that has happened today, it is a waste of taxpayers’ money. No wonder why some of you did not come back, you are useless. No wonder why you were voted out, you did nothing to this Parliament,” said Mliswa.

Commenting on the development, Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere said the passing of the dangerous and unconstitutional Patriotic Bill proves beyond doubt that Zimbabwe is currently reeling under a dictatorship far worse than Robert Mugabe.

“Zanu PF has reduced our great nation into an outpost of tyranny. They are in panic mode and on an unbridled crusade to close the democratic space completely.

“Zanu PF is painfully aware that it can never win a free and fair election in Zimbabwe. The citizens are unequivocal in their demand for change so they are retaliating with repressive legislation, weaponisation of the law, abuse of the police service and muzzling critics.

“None of it will work because Zimbabweans go to the polls with one mission — to win Zimbabwe for change. No amount of panicky despotism by Zanu will stand in the way of change whose time has come,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Bill, among other outcomes, amends section 65 of the principal Act to set 15 years as the minimum mandatory sentence for rape.

This follows a realisation of the widespread concerns over the rising incidents of the heinous crime of sexual violence and rape, and it has been seen fit that more deterrent measures should be put in place to stamp out the crime.-STAFF WRITER

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