By Tatenda Dewa | Harare Bureau |
Zimbabweans risk spending a year in prison for “abusing” the national flag that has become popular with #ThisFlag protesters.
Use of the flag that symbolises citizens’ attachment to their home country during protests was popularised Evan Mawarire, a pastor who has since skipped the border for fear of his life due to his activism.
According to Veritas, a local parliamentary and legislation watchdog, the constitution, an existing statute and a statutory instrument had provisions that made it an offence to abuse the flag.
“In addition to section 4 of the Constitution, there are two such laws: the Flag of Zimbabwe Act and the Flag of Zimbabwe (General) Regulations [SI 194/1987] made by the President under the Act,” Veritas said.
“The Act makes it a criminal offence for anyone to burn, mutilate or otherwise insult the flag (or a reproduction or likeness of it) in circumstances which are calculated or likely to show disrespect for the Flag or bring it into disrepute. The maximum penalty on conviction is a fine not exceeding level 6 ($300) or imprisonment for one year or both,” said Veritas.
The regulations make it a criminal offence to import or manufacture the flag, or apply the flag, reproduction or likeness of it, use the flag on any matter or thing, for the purposes of sale, without the prior permission of the secretary for justice, legal and parliamentary affairs.
“For permission to be granted, the secretary (of justice) must be satisfied that the activity in question will not bring the flag into disrepute, will not result in its excessive exploitation for commercial purposes and will not generally be contrary to the public interest”.
A legal expert and law lecturer, Alex Magaisa who is based in the UK, however, recently said the laws undermined freedom of expression since citizens used it as a symbol of identity. Nehanda Radio