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Uproar erupts over gagging law



PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa has finally signed into law the controversial “Patriotic Bill” which many commentators have described as one of the most draconian pieces of legislation in recent times.

This was announced in the latest Government Gazette under general notice 1189 of 2023.

The new law closes the little space for free expression which remained in Zimbabwe, effectively violating fundamental constitutional liberties.

 “The following laws, which were assented to by His Excellency the President, are published in terms of section 131(6)(a) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe — Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Act, 2023. (No.10 of 2023), labour Amendment Act, 2023 (No 11 of 2023),” read the notice by Misheck Sibanda Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet.

The “Patriot Bill” sailed through the Senate in early June. It set out that Zimbabwe’s constitutional order that is based on parliamentary democracy affords many avenues for aggrieved citizens to redress wrongs 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 the law.

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

This is the “patriot” part of the Act. 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.

Commenting on the development, prominent journalist and anti-corruption activist Hopewell Chin’ono described it as a dark day for Zimbabwe.

“Currently Zimbabwe has two political prisoners jailed for speaking out against repression and corruption.

 “Opposition MP and lawyer Job Sikhala has been in jail for over one year without bail or conviction. “Political activist Jacob Ngarivhume was jailed for 4 years for speaking out against corruption and organizing an anti-corruption march.

“The regime inspects Twitter handles of opposition politicians, critics and journalists for anything that offends it and gets them arrested at times using laws that don’t exist. So this law is meant to muzzle them! Today is a dark day for Zimbabwe,” he said.

Opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere concurred.

“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,” she said.

 Commentators say the law is designed to silence civil society organisations, the opposition and journalists ahead of the 23 August elections.

They also feel the law is designed to punish citizens in general while hiding behind the veil of patriotism.

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 prescribed penalty 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 law, 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 of MPs from Zanu PF voted yes for the Bill while only 17 opposition lawmakers voted no. Independent lawmaker Temba Mliswa was kicked out of thw National Assembly for criticising the Bill.

 “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.

 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 widespread concerns over the rising incidence 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 offences. — STAFF WRITER.

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