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Patriotic Act deals blow to re-engagement effort



ZIMBABWE’S international diplomatic re-engagement effort has suffered a major setback following President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s signing of the much-condemned “Patriotic Act” which is projected to further shrink the civic space before and after the election period, The NewsHawks have learnt.


As the countdown to the 23 August general elections continues, there is an escalation in reports of political violence, which could now dent the credibility of the polls.

Last week, Mnangagwa assented to an amendments to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act which criminalises fundamental freedoms of association, assembly and speech of any citizen who holds meetings with foreign diplomats or any other foreigner.

 The promulgation of the “Patriotic Act” has plunged the country into the dark days reminiscent of the oppressive Rhodesian colonial era.

In reaction, the European Union delegation to Zimbabwe has indicated that the Act is regressive in Zimbabwe’s bid to clear its image.

“Zimbabwe as a sovereign country has committed in the Arrears Clearance process to enhancing respect for freedoms of association, assembly and expression, as well as building trust with the international community. Today’s legislation (Patriotic Act) sends a political signal in the opposite direction,” said the EU via its official Twitter handle.

Zimbabwe’s human rights record has been the major stumbling block in the re-engagement drive. For instance, human rights have been labelled as key in Zimbabwe’s return to the Commonwealth.

 The country quit the Commonwealth in 2003 after clashes between the club of mostly former British colonies and the late ex-president Robert Mugabe over policy conflicts, human rights abuses and violation of the group’s democratic values.

Mugabe, who had ruled Zimbabwe from Independence in 1980, came under criticism over disputed elections and violent land seizures from white farmers between 2000 and 2001.

The Patriotic Act is likely to further widen the rift between Zimbabwe and the international community which has been reminding Harare to honour its own reform roadmap.

“We call on President Mnangagwa to reverse his decision and immediately ensure the repeal of the law to demonstrate the commitment of his government to human rights. The signing of the ‘Patriotic Bill’ into an Act by the President is a grave attack on the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association,” said Khanyo Farisè, Amnesty International’s deputy research director for southern Africa.

The “Patriotic Act” has also been described as unconstitutional.

In an analysis last month, legal grouping Veritas said the amendment would make for bad law.

“It remains a bad Bill and will become a bad Act if the President assents to it — unconstitutional, in its specification of the death penalty for the new crime of unpatriotic behaviour [Clause 2] and the mandatory sentences for rape without provision for the cases in which ‘special circumstances’ justifying departure from the mandatory minimums are present.

“It will curtail freedom of speech and other civil liberties essential to democracy,” Veritas said.

Veritas said the draconian clauses are divorced from the constitution.

“As we noted, for attending a meeting to consider or plan armed intervention, the penalty will be the same as for treason — and under section 20 of the code the penalty for treason is death.

“However, section 48 of the constitution states that the death penalty can be imposed only on persons convicted of murder committed in aggravating circumstances; hence it cannot be imposed on persons convicted of treason or the new crime. Section 20 of the code should have been aligned with the constitution a long time ago.

“The Bill does not propose to amend section 20 of the code by repealing the death penalty for treason, [and this] says something about the sincerity of the government’s avowed intention to abolish the death penalty. The additional penalty of deprivation of citizenship, which can be imposed on someone convicted of attending a meeting to consider sanctions, infringes section 39 of the constitution, which provides that citizenship by registration can be revoked only if it was obtained by fraud or if the citizen communicated with an enemy ‘during a war in which Zimbabwe was engaged’.”

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