Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition:
The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition is deeply concerned about the passing of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill, popularly known as the “Patriotic Act,” by the Government of Zimbabwe.
This development reflects a worrisome escalation of the use of laws to crackdown on the fundamental rights and freedoms of Zimbabweans, particularly regarding freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. Of major concern is that this is also happening a few weeks before Zimbabwe holds a crucial national election. Undoubtedly, this has every potential to further diminish the credibility of the entire electoral process.
It is surprising that at a time the government has invited foreign observers to come and observe our electoral process, it then chooses to gag citizens from talking about the same election, including its shortcomings which are all too glaring.
The determination by observer missions on their views of our elections is informed by the experiences of Zimbabwe’s citizens and institutions, both good and bad, and it is every citizen’s right to speak as they see things, not what the government wants to be said.
Essentially, this new law is yet another threat to the ability of citizens to engage in open political discourse and to participate freely in the electoral process. This will without doubt undermine the inclusivity and fairness of the entire electoral process and ultimately compromise the overall legitimacy of the 23 August elections.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) have already noted how the law is deliberately vague and excessively broad in its definition of liable offences; it “does not define sovereignty and national interest, which could be broadly and subjectively interpreted to criminalise the lawful conduct of those expressing their freedom of expression.” Yet, clear and precise definitions of criminal acts are crucial for individuals to understand the boundaries of their legal liabilities.
Some of the penalties proposed by the law for deliberately injuring the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe — such as the death penalty, long imprisonment, loss of citizenship and banning of persons from electoral participation for five years — are too harsh and inappropriate for vaguely defined offences. In addition, the provision for the death penalty means that the new law violates section 48 of Zimbabwe’s constitution, which only allows for the death penalty in cases of murder in aggravating circumstances.
As part of its longstanding commitment, the Coalition firmly opposes the death penalty without exceptions, irrespective of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the state’s chosen method of execution. The death penalty is a grave violation of the right to life as enshrined in the constitution of Zimbabwe.
Of greater concern is the law’s potential to grant authorities excessive powers to curtail human rights.
It is clear that this law is just meant to curtail the rights and freedoms of those perceived to be critical of the government, including political activists, human rights defenders, journalists, civil society leaders, opposition parties, and whistleblowers.
Such actions by the government only cements our earlier assertions as the Coalition, that the ruling elites in Zanu PF want to turn Zimbabwe into a one-party state and dictatorship.
Before assenting to the two laws (Patriotic Bill and Labour Amendment Bill), President Mnangagwa had on his desk at six repressive laws which await his assent to become law – these include the Judicial Laws Amendment Bill, Prisons and Correctional Services Bill, Police Amendment Bill and the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill.
All these Bills in essence are bringing new provisions that further curtail not only the rights and freedoms of Zimbabweans, but are generally meant to curtail and further shrink the civic an democratic space, and ensure Zimbabwe becomes a one party state where dissent and criticism of the ruling party is outlawed.
This however runs contrary to the promise of 1980 and an independent Zimbabwe and will surely be resisted by all genuinely “patriotic” Zimbabweans. It is the duty of every Zimbabwe to defend the constitution and clearly the passing of this “Patriotic Bill” by the elites in Zanu PF is antidevelopmental and is itself an act of unpatriotic behaviour.
The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition strongly urges the government of Zimbabwe to reconsider this Amendment Act and ensure that it upholds the principles of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. We call on the President to exercise restraint and take into account the concerns raised by civil society and human rights organisations.
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum: Death of democracy. President Emmerson Mnangagwa has signed the draconian Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, known as the “Patriotic Bill”.
The law imposes sanctions on citizens who meet foreign agents to discuss sanctions or call for foreign intervention in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR):
We maintain our position of 1 June 2023 that amendments introducing so-called patriotisim provisions are not only unconstitutional, but also violate Zimbabwe’ obligations provided in various human rights instruments.
The Act lists offences such as “wilfully injuring the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe” for active participation by Zimbabweans in meetings inside and outside Zimbabwe on issues of military intervention, subverting/ upsetting/ overthrowing or overturning the constitutional government, or on economic sanctions and trade boycotts.
Following a critical analysis of these provisions, ZLHR concluded that the provisions are vague, lack certainty, are imprecise, and are thus prone to abuse by law enforcement. The Bill does not define “sovereignty” and “national interest”, which could be interpreted broadly and subjectively to criminalise the legitimate conduct of those asserting their freedom of expression.
ZLHR is gravely concerned that the Bill penalises citizens and residents for merely attending a meeting where sanctions are considered, whether the sanctions target any individual or official or class of individuals.
The vague criminalisation of meetings between Zimbabwean citizens and foreign governments violates human rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression guaranteed in the Constitution. Zimbabwe has also voluntarily agreed to be bound by numerous United Nations and African Union human rights instruments providing these rights.
Of grave concern in the Act are the excessive penalties for wilfully injuring the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe, which include the death penalty, lengthy imprisonment, revocation of citizenship, prohibition from being registered as a voter or voting at an election for a period of at least five years.
ZLHR notes that some of the penalties are manifestly unconstitutional. The death penalty can only be imposed on a person convicted of murder in aggravating circumstances, as provided for in section 48 of the constitution of Zimbabwe.
The penalty of prohibition of registration as a voter or voting at an election violates political rights as provided for in section 67 of the constitution as read with paragraph 2 of the Fourth Schedule to the Constitution, which provides for disqualification for registration as a voter only if a person has been convicted under the Electoral Act.
Revocation of citizenship can only be done in terms of section 39 of the constitution of Zimbabwe, and conviction for so-called unpatriotic conduct is not a ground for revocation in terms of section 39 of the constitution.
The proposed provisions will result in the closure of the civic space and violate human rights at a time when Zimbabwe has committed to implement critical reforms under the Structured Dialogue on Arrears Clearance and Debt Resolution process.
Admire Masikati, Zanu PF Bulawayo regional leader:
Many people don’t like their own nation. The law was passed at the right time as this will make Zimbabweans to love their country.
Fadzayi Mahere, opposition CCC spokesperson:
We condemn the signing into law of the unconstitutional Patriotic Bill. The enactment confirms that Zimbabwe is a full blown dictatorship run by a regime worse than Robert Mugabe. In the new Zimbabwe, unjust laws will be repealed. We will deliver freedom #ForEveryone!
John Dlamini, opposition Zapu chairperson:
It’s fascist. They don’t want to be scrutinised by the people. They put a law which says, don’t blame Mnangagwa, don’t say there are no jobs in Zimbabwe. That’s wrong.
They put a law which says don’t blame Mnangagwa, don’t say there are no jobs in Zimbabwe, don’t say you are hungry. What is there is that the people who put this law are not patriotic.
Zanu is a party which is not patriotic, the leadership of Zanu, Mnangagwa himself is not patriotic. If he was patriotic, we wouldn’t be dying of hunger, hospitals would be full of medication, they wouldn’t be stealing gold and diamond, they wouldn’t be killing people.
Canadian embassy in Zimbabwe:
Zimbabwe’s Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and association for its citizens.
The new legislation goes against these principles and undermines Zimbabwe’s efforts to forge a new chapter in its engagement with international partners.
British embassy in Zimbabwe:
The rights to freedom of expression and association are guaranteed in Zimbabwe’s constitution. Parts of today’s new legislation have serious implications for Zimbabweans’ ability to exercise those rights without fear, and for Zimbabwe Govt’s efforts at international re-engagement.
United States embassy in Zimbabwe:
Every Zimbabwean has the right to freedom of expression, assembly, and association. New legislation subverts these constitutional rights, undercuts Zimbabwe’s international re-engagement efforts, and is bad for business.