ZIMBABWE now has a worse civil liberties record than its regional counterparts in shrinking the civic space in regards to freedom of assembly, muzzling civil society organisations, freedom of expression and promulgating laws that affect fundraising, a report by Sivio Institute has shown.
The country is under pressure to clear its human rights record in a bid to re-engage with the international community and create goodwill.
The report has identified a total of 63 laws threatening the operation of non-governmental organisations in all 12 Sadc countries, with Zimbabwe among the leaders in constricting the civic space.
These areas were rated on a score ranging from 1 to 5 whereby 1 represents an open environment where civic space is enjoyed with no obstruction while 5 represents a severely obstructed civic space.
Findings of the report titled: “Southern Africa: A Shrinking Public Space”, by Tendai Murisa and Leon Mapurisa, show that Zimbabwe has the highest number of laws restricting the operation of non-governmental organisations in the region, with nine laws, followed by Eswatini with seven.
Zimbabwe has been getting a constant rating of 4/5 in five thematic areas, namely: ease of registration, ease of fundraising from external sources, ease of movement of funds, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
On the ease of registration, the country ties with Malawi and Zambia, with the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Bill, Interception of Communications Act of 2007 among others hindering the operations of CSOs.
Botswana has the best score of 1/5 on ease of registration, followed by Madagascar and South Africa with 2/5.
“In Zimbabwe, the government is in the process of finalising the promulgation of the PVO Bill into law. If passed, the government will have limitless authority to deregister and persecute PVOs,” reads part of the report.
Zimbabwe also has a score of 4/5 in the ease of fundraising from external sources, and has the same rating on freedom of expression, with six laws including the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act (Mopa), Data Protection Act (DPA) and Censorship and Control of Entertainments Act (CECA).
The country also comes tops in constriction of the freedom of assembly, with nine laws that hamper association, followed by Eswatini with seven.
As previously reported by The NewsHawks, Zimbabwe’s dalliance with Eswatini’s King Mswati III, has raised eyebrows, considering his negative regional human rights footprint which has resulted in intolerance of dissenting voices in the country.
For instance, in February this year Amnesty International, a human rights organisation, wrote to Mswati demanding justice over the killing of prominent human rights defender Thulani Maseko who was gunned down by unknown assailants.
In the letter, Amnesty International said while the motive behind the unlawful killing of Maseko remains unclear, they have reason to believe that he was attacked in relation to his work as a human rights lawyer and defender as he regularly stood up against the state’s abuse of power.
The report shows that the shrinking civic space in the Sadc region is mainly due to punitive legal instruments targeted at the operations of CSOs.
“The greatest concern for these governments and their justification for such punitive measures is the threat of terrorism which, they argue, has resulted in the need for new legal structures that address and monitor the flow of funds,” reads part of the report.
“The prevailing concern across these countries has to do with the ways in which laws that regulate registration grant too much discretionary authority in the Ministers/Registrars who do not always make it easy for civic organisations to register.
“While their intention may be noble, the consequence is that civic organisations fail to function meaningfully because donors may not be willing to deal with the infringing regulations,” reads part of the report.