Mnangangwa ‘wants to inject fear’

President Emmerson Mnangagwa

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has been accused of railroading proposed legislation to punish "unpatriotic citizens" in order to avoid scrutiny and accountability.

Critics said the proposed law will further close the democratic space as the country heads to the 2023 elections.

Cabinet last Tuesday approved the principles for enacting the controversial Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill, containing statutes seeking to enforce patriotism.

The Bill will allow the National Prosecuting Authority to institute criminal prosecution against any Zimbabwean who, in its discretion, is said to be undermining the country or using false statements to paint a bad picture about the country to foreign governments.

Zanu PF has defended the proposed Bill saying it was needed to “protect the Zimbabwean brand” as they seek to draw parallels with the United States of America that has similar legislation, the Logan Act in particular.

The Logan Act, promulgated in 1799, criminalizes negotiation through correspondence or communication by unauthorized American citizens with foreign governments having a dispute with the United States.

 University of Zimbabwe political scientist Eldred Masunungure said the Bill will inject fear into many pro-democracy movements including the opposition ahead of the elections.

“The Bill is just there to inject fear into the targeted institutions and political parties,” Masunungure said.

“This Bill is unwise because it shows dictatorial tendencies.

“It may backfire for the regime as this defeats the whole purpose of re-engagement.

“The Bill will also target key leaders in the opposition, but the difficulty of enforcing the proposed Act is that it will need a lot of surveillance and it is difficult.”

Political analyst Rejoice Ngwenya said the Bill should be challenged at the Constitutional Court, arguing that Zimbabweans have a right to express themselves.

“It will create a basis for prosecution based on legislative falsehoods,” Ngwenya said.

“This can be contested in the Constitutional Court because we are free to express ourselves.”

Former Zanu Pf youth leader Pupurai Togarepi first suggested the need for a Patriotic Act in 2018 to  prosecute Zimbabweans that allegedly speak ill of the country and advocate for economic sanctions.

Zanu PF later moved a motion in Parliament on the proposed Bill in March 2021.

United States-based researcher Madison Mandell said the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill is essentially a form of a libel law targeting government critics.

“The vague language of the Bill creates a rare opportunity for the ruling party to apply it as a means of stifling freedom of expression, which effectively would close down any remaining democratic 'space' in Zimbabwe,” Mandell said.

“The legislation criminalizes almost any speech that is critical of the government or that draws attention to the state’s dire issues.

“These limitations on free speech not only violate the freedoms guaranteed by the 2013 constitution, but also jeopardise prospects to strengthen democracy.

“The ability to hold governments accountable is one of the main reasons that free expression is central to democracy; the Bill is a complete assault on accountability.”

The proposed Bill also proposes a ban on demonstrations on international days, among other things.

Political commentators also believe the Emmerson Mnangagwa-led Zanu PF government was targetting the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC).

CCC leader Nelson Chamisa came close to defeating Mnangagwa in the 2018 disputed elections.

Zanu  PF director of Information and Publicity Tafadzwa Mugwadi yesterday defended the proposed Bill  saying the party applauded Cabinet for taking a bold step.

“Every nation is worth its existence and sovereignty must always be in the interests of its people and development interests respond to harsh realities exposed to it by the ever changing international arena,” Mugwadi said.

“The amendments clearly define Zimbabwe’s national interests. They must know the writing is on the wall for them.

“Time to shape up or pay the price. All well-meaning Zimbabweans will embrace this latest development.”

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