CABINET will soon consider the principal framework of a proposed law that will criminalise and impose stiff penalties for campaigning against the country through private correspondence with foreign governments and harming national interests.
In August, the Cabinet Committee on National Peace and Reconciliation tasked the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to draft a law that prohibits citizens from conniving with hostile foreign governments to harm the country.
Principles of the Patriot Bill have now been drafted. Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi is now expected to table the principles in Cabinet.
Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs permanent secretary Mrs Virginia Mabhiza told The Sunday Mail that the Bill draws from similar legislation in other jurisdictions such as the Logan Act in the United States of America.
She said it is solely the State’s mandate to engage other nations on issues pertaining to foreign relations. Acts that will be criminalised will include corresponding with a foreign government without approval, making false statements which harm the country and conniving with hostile foreign governments to harm the nation.
“The Bill is premised on the constitutional provision on the foreign policy of our country, which values the promotion and protection of the national interests of Zimbabwe,” she said.
“It is the duty of the State to engage other sovereign nations on issues pertaining to foreign relations, and not self-serving citizens.
“Conduct such as private correspondence with foreign governments or any officer or agent thereof will be prohibited, including false statements influencing foreign governments, or any other such conduct aimed at undermining the country.
“Private citizens will have to avoid conduct such as traveling to foreign countries as self-appointed ambassadors, meeting foreign officials to undermine the national interest.
“Conniving with hostile foreign governments and nationals to inflict harm on the country and its citizens will be criminalised.
“All the above conduct will be criminalised and in the event of a conviction, stiff penalties will be imposed.”
Having noted the diplomatic chaos that comes with private citizens having unauthorised negotiations with foreign governments, the US government passed the Logan Act in 1799. It specifically prohibits citizens from negotiating with other nations on behalf of the United States without authorisation and makes it a crime for a citizen to confer with foreign governments against the interests of the United States.
Political analyst Mr Godwine Mureriwa said the proposed law was progressive.
“The fact that the onslaught against Zimbabwe has reached a level where the nation’s sovereignty and national interest are constantly under threat makes such a law relevant,” said Mr Mureriwa.
“A law criminalising campaigning against one’s nation is not new; even the US has such a law. Taking into account the fact that Zimbabwe is under sanctions and faces the threat of a military assault by a foreign power at the invitation of the opposition, under these circumstances, such a law is progressive and acceptable.”
Several Zimbabwean opposition politicians and prominent civil society leaders have often been accused of engaging hostile foreign governments to try to influence them to dislodge the ruling party for their political gain.
The United States imposed harsh economic sanctions on Zimbabwe at the turn of the millennium at the instigation of leaders in opposition political parties and civic society.
The sanctions, which are renewed annually, have wreaked havoc on the country’s economy, with Zimbabwe now ineligible for balance of payment support and affordable loans from international finance institutions. Some opposition leaders have become semi-permanent features at the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, where they constantly campaign for more sanctions against the country.
Whistleblower website — Wikileaks — has also outed dalliances between some local politicians and officials at the US embassy in Harare, with one politician requesting US military intervention in Zimbabwe in order to facilitate an illegal change of Government.