By Nyashadzashe Ndoro
The Media Institute of Southern Africa (Zimbabwe chapter) has expressed concern over the proposed Patriot Bill which has the potential of curtailing the exercise of rights such as media freedom and freedom of expression, right to privacy, access to information, freedom of conscience, political rights, freedom to demonstrate and petition, and freedom of assembly and association.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s under-fire administration is crafting a law that will punish citizens who communicate with foreign governments and “harm national interests.”
Government says the proposed law will criminalise corresponding with a foreign government without approval and making false statements that harm the country and conniving with hostile foreign governments to harm the country.
In a statement seen by Nehanda Radio, Misa Zimbabwe criticised Mnangagwa’s intention to legislate the bill arguing that it fringes on the right of citizens to freely express themselves.
Misa Zimbabwe added that the law will potentially cripple the work and mandate of non-governmental organisations that also work with foreign governments, embassies or similar organisations in foreign countries, among others.
“It should be noted that in exercising freedom of expression, it is lawful for citizens to:
“Demand the prosecution of perpetrators of gross human rights violations.
“Request information with regards to the investigation and prosecution of police officers involved in media violations.
“Demand accountability with regards to abductions purported to have been state sponsored
“Demand prosecution of high ranking officials alleged to have engaged in corrupt activities.
“Demand equal application of the law in Zimbabwe.
The above is centered on the exercise and enjoyment of fundamental rights for the betterment of Zimbabwe, which any patriotic citizen would be keen to support,” Misa Zimbabwe said.
Misa Zimbabwe noted that when citizens exercise their constitutional rights for purposes of transparency and accountability, “such conduct should not be perceived as attacks on the government, the ruling party or any specific individuals.”
Government had argued that the bill is to encourage citizens to love their country but Misa Zimbabwe says ‘love of one’s country cannot be forced through legislation’.
“In that regard, Zimbabwe should embrace the exercise of freedom of expression in its diverse forms.
“Putting in place such a law will severely infringe the right to privacy as it creates further avenues for surveillance, tracking of internet usage and accessing of private communication records.
“Any mass and indiscriminate surveillance of citizens is unconstitutional and should not be sanitised through any piece of legislation.
“Even in the United States where a similar law was enacted, several concerns were raised on its provisions and enforcement.
“In defence of the US Bill of Rights in the case of West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette, Justice Jackson highlighted that:
“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act or faith therein.
“In other words, the love, devotion and strong support for one’s country should not be forced on citizens through legislation. Neither should honesty about one’s country’s shortcomings be considered to be unpatriotic or campaigning against one’s own country.
“This frowns upon the basic tenets of democracy and respect for fundamental rights,” Misa Zimbabwe said.
Recently, a hashtag, #ZimbabweLivesMatter was campaigned through the social media forcing advocacy networks around the world to take information on rights abuses in Zimbabwe and mount pressure on Mnangagwa’s government to act.
The hashtag was not popular with the Zanu PF administration because it led to the coming of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress to assess the socio-political situation in the country.
Foreign embassies and leaders of other countries also condemned the situation in Zimbabwe and urged Mnangagwa to end human rights abuses.
Journalists, political activists and opposition politicians were arrested, some were abducted and tortured by suspected state security during the last four months. Nehanda Radio