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CPJ Outraged Over Proposed New Legislation That Could See Journalists Jailed for Up to 20 Years
Committee to Protect Journalists (New York)
December 3, 2004
Posted to the web December 3, 2004
In a 2 December 2004 letter to President Robert Mugabe, CPJ expressed its outage over the government's continued clampdown on independent media in Zimbabwe, including proposed new legislation that could be used to jail journalists for up to 20 years.
At a time when several other African countries are lifting criminal sanctions for press offences, bringing their laws in line with international standards, Zimbabwe's government is preparing to introduce penalties that are among the harshest on the continent. In the letter, CPJ said that this will only further impede Zimbabwe's media, which already face other restrictive laws.
According to local and international press reports, the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Bill currently before Parliament imposes up to 20 years' imprisonment, heavy fines, or both for publishing "false" information deemed prejudicial against the state. Clause 31 would make it an offence to publish or communicate "to any other person a statement which is wholly or materially false with the intention or realizing that that there is a real risk of inciting or promoting public disorder or public violence or endangering public safety; or adversely affecting the defence and economic interests of Zimbabwe; or undermining public confidence in a law enforcement agency, the Prison Service or the Defence Forces of Zimbabwe; or interfering with, disrupting or interrupting any essential service."
This comes on top of the already draconian Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and the Access to Information and Public Privacy Act (AIPPA), which was last month strengthened to impose a jail sentence of up to two years for any journalist caught working without accreditation from the government-controlled media commission. Dozens of journalists have already been detained and harassed under AIPPA and POSA since these laws were introduced in 2002, while AIPPA has been used to shutter Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper, the "Daily News".
As well as intimidating journalists, CPJ sources say the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Bill could be used to intimidate their sources. They fear that the law's language could also be used broadly against Zimbabweans who communicate with news outlets and other organizations based abroad.
These moves to tighten already restrictive legislation come in the run-up to general elections scheduled for March 2005.
In its letter, CPJ reminded President Mugabe of Zimbabwe's commitment to the Southern African Development Community principles and guidelines governing democratic elections, which include safeguarding freedom of expression and access to the media (Section 7.4).
Send appeals to the president:
- calling on him to do everything in his power to ensure that all repressive media legislation is repealed and that the draconian proposals currently before Parliament are dropped
- urging him to do all in his power to allow the "Daily News" to reopen and independent journalists to work in Zimbabwe without fear of reprisal
President Robert Mugabe
Office of the President
Samora Machel Avenue/ 3rd Street
Fax: +263 4 708 820
Please copy appeals to the source if possible.
Enough is Enough
We have a fundamental right to freedom of expression!
On August 17 2004, SADC leaders meeting in Mauritius adopted the SADC Protocol – Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections. Zimbabwe, as a member of SADC, also signed the Protocol and committed itself to implementing its standards.
“Mauritius Watch” provides a regular, objective and non-partisan assessment of Zimbabwe’s compliance with the Protocol. In the run-up to the 2005 Parliamentary Elections we note any significant failures to adhere to the SADC standards.
SADC standards breached
MUGABE SCUTTLES LAST FREEDOMS
President Robert Mugabe’s regime has rushed through Parliament some of the most repressive laws ever seen in Zimbabwe’s history. Against spirited opposition from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) legislators, Mr Mugabe’s ZANU PF party used its numerical majority to ram through the Non-Government Organizations Bill and the Electoral Commission Bill. The first will effectively cripple human rights groups and allow the regime’s abuses to pass unrecorded; the second will ensure that Mugabe’s allies run the parliamentary elections due in March 2005. A last minute concession granted NGOs a six- month grace period to regularize their operations once the Bill is passed, but it is not thought this will assist NGOs concerned with so-called “governance” issues (which include human rights and electoral issues) and which, under the new Bill, are prohibited from receiving any foreign funding.
It is understood the regime has a hit list of between 15 and 20 organizations which it has targeted for closure. On the list is every human rights group in the country, including Crisis in Zimbabwe, the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), the Media Institute of Southern Africa, Lawyers for Human Rights, Amani Trust, Women Of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) and Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN). Innocent Gonese, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) chief whip, pointed out that all these groups are heavily dependent on outside funding. He added: “What they (the government) are trying to do is to effectively prevent non-governmental organizations from reporting on their bad human rights record. Abuses of human rights will go unrecorded.”
Prior to the parliamentary polls of 2000, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum recorded 37 political murders and 18 000 other abuses, ranging from assault and torture to abduction and rape. It blamed ZANU PF for more than 90 per cent of all offences.
4.1.2 Conducive environment for free, fair and peaceful elections
7.4. (Government to) safeguard the human and civil liberties of all citizens including the freedom of movement, assembly, association, expression and campaigning …
7.5. (Government to) take all necessary measures and precautions to prevent the perpetration of fraud, rigging or any other illegal practices throughout the whole electoral process, in order to maintain peace and security
HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYERS PETITION AFRICA COMMISSION
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has taken the forced closure of the country’s biggest and only independent daily newspaper, the Daily News, and several other cases of alleged miscarriages of justice, before the Africa Commission on Human Rights (ACHR).
ZLHR director, Arnold Tsunga, and a human rights law professor at South Africa’s University of Pretoria, Michel Hansungule, travelled to the Senegalese capital, Dakar, at the end of November to present their case to the Commission.
Their petition is based on the refusal of the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe to hear an application by Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ) against the requirement that it register with the government’s Media and Information Commission before being allowed to publish the Daily News. This refusal to consider the ANZ application was a violation of the Africa Charter on Human Rights, ZLHR said. Until its forced closure in September 2003, the Daily News provided a vital independent voice for the nation.
ZLHR also wants the commission to determine whether the government’s Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), which requires journalists and media companies to register before they can operate, is consistent with fundamental human rights.
Other cases to be brought before the commission include the unresolved petitions before the courts submitted by Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), challenging “victories” by ruling ZANU PF candidates in 37 constituencies in the 2000 general election. Although the legal challenges were mounted over four years ago, and the next general election is only four months away, most remain unresolved.
See the report in Zim Online (November 27) - www.zimonline.co.za
2.1.7. Independence of the Judiciary and impartiality of the electoral institutions
2.1.10 Challenge of the election results as provided for in the law of the land
4.1.1. Constitutional and legal guarantees of freedom and rights of the citizens
7.4. (Government to) safeguard the human and civil liberties of all citizens, including the freedom of movement, assembly, association, expression and campaigning as well as access to the media on the part of all stakeholders during the electoral process …
EU TAKES ZIMBABWE’S HUMAN RIGHTS CRISIS TO UN COMMITTEE
The European Union (EU) will ask the Third Committee of the United Nations (UN) to discuss Zimbabwe’s deteriorating human rights situation at its 59th session in early December.
A resolution to be presented to the key committee by the Netherlands on behalf of the EU will also request the committee to note that conditions do not exist in Zimbabwe for the holding of a free and fair general election in 2005.
In a statement last week, the deputy permanent representative of the Netherlands to the UN, Arjan Hamburger, said: “We are …. concerned about the restrictions on the freedom to operate without fear of harassment and intimidation of members of parliament, independent civil society and human rights defenders.”
Reported by Zim Online – November 24 - www.zimonline.co.za
4.1.2. Conducive environment for free, fair and peaceful elections
7.4. (Government to) safeguard the human and civil liberties of all citizens, including the freedom of movement, assembly, association, expression and campaigning … during the electoral process
HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT HIGHLIGHTS DANGER TO DEMOCRACY
A major human rights report released in Johannesburg on November 19 highlights one of the threats to democracy in Zimbabwe caused by the mass exodus of millions of citizens from that country and the Mugabe regime’s refusal to permit them to vote in the forthcoming general election.
The Solidarity Peace Trust Report entitled “No War in Zimbabwe” (which takes its name from a statement made by the SA Dept of Home Affairs) chronicles the difficulties and dangers faced by Zimbabwean exiles in South Africa. It also notes the reasons why such huge numbers have fled their home country.
The authors of the report estimate that 300 000 people have been victims of various human rights abuses in Zimbabwe over the last four years, including torture, denial of food, burning of homesteads and the massive displacement of those fleeing political persecution or farm invasions. Around 300 people have been murdered for political reasons.
Estimates of the number of refugees now living in South Africa and elsewhere are particularly revealing. The report says that between 25 and 30 per cent of Zimbabwe’s population have now fled the country. The government’s own estimates put the number at 3.4 million. Out of a total population of 12 million, approximately half are under the age of 15 and, of the remaining 6 million adults, 1 million are retired. This means that, out of 5 million potentially productive adults, 3.4 million, or a staggering 60 to 70 percent, are now living outside Zimbabwe.
The Mugabe’s regime’s decision not to allow citizens living abroad to vote in the 2005 election, has effectively disenfranchised close to half of the population. The authors of the report write: “With 50 per cent of voting age adults outside Zimbabwe the implications for democracy are dire. Half the population will be deprived of its vote in next year’s elections.”
The Solidarity Peace Trust Report “No War in Zimbabwe” may be viewed on - www.humanrightsfirst.org
2.1.6. Equal opportunity to exercise the right to vote and be voted for
4.1.3. Non-discrimination in the voters’ registration
AMNESTY CALLS FOR WITHDRAWAL OF BILL
Amnesty International (AI) has called for the withdrawal of the draft Electoral Commission Bill on the basis that the proposed legislation is “flawed” and needs to be “appropriately reviewed”. The international human rights group said the Bill lacked key provisions that would ensure the independence of the commission during general elections in March 2005.
AI said in a briefing paper that in at least four key areas the provisions fell short of the benchmark for democratic elections agreed to by the Southern African Development Community (SADC). It noted that the Bill failed to “adequately restrict” top ruling party officials from being appointed as commissioners and provided opportunities for government meddling in the work of the electoral authority.
The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) legal affairs secretary, David Coltart, said that efforts to get any crucial parts of the bill changed in Parliament had been unsuccessful. Of particular concern to the opposition was the provision in the Bill enabling the commission to force anyone providing voter education to furnish it with information, including funding sources, and the imposition of a criminal penalty (a fine or up to two years imprisonment) for non-compliance. “This is in complete violation of the constitution, which enshrines the freedom of expression,” said Coltart.
Further details in The Standard (November 28) - http://www.thestandard.co.zw/
2.1.7. Independence of the Judiciary and impartiality of the electoral institutions
2.1.8. Voter education
7.3. (Government to) establish impartial, all-inclusive, competent and accountable electoral bodies …
On the basis of these and numerous other daily breaches of the SADC Protocol on Democratic Elections, it can be seen that the Mugabe regime has yet to show any serious intent to change its ways or to begin to prepare for anything resembling fair and free elections. In fact, the reforms they are proposing will result in a situation even worse than that which prevailed during the Parliamentary Elections of 2000 and the Presidential Election of 2002, both of which were heavily criticized by observer missions from the international community.
And the March 2005 Parliamentary Elections are now a matter of weeks away …..