HARARE, ZIMBABWE – Rights groups in Zimbabwe say the government is targeting critics with a planned amendment to the Criminal Law Act. The new law would, among other things, make it illegal for Zimbabweans to have unauthorized communications with foreign governments or to make unsubstantiated claims of torture or abduction. Analysts say authorities appear to be going after charities and the political opposition.
The proposed law would make it a crime for citizens to have unauthorized contact with foreign governments or to protest during international events or visits.
Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said late Tuesday the change was needed for national security purposes.
“Such communication or negotiation has a direct or indirect implication on Zimbabwe’s foreign relations and policy,” said Mutsvangwa. “The amendments will criminalize the isolated cases of individuals or groups who for self-gain cooperate or connive with hostile foreign governments to inflict suffering on Zimbabwean citizens and to cause damage to national interests.”
Speaking after a cabinet meeting, she said they would also make it illegal for anyone to make unsubstantiated claims of torture or abduction.
Independent political commentator Rejoice Ngwenya says the proposed law against foreign contact is aimed at charities.
He notes President Emmerson Mnangagwa last week vowed to crack down on aid groups that were criticizing his government’s human rights record.
“I[He] seems again, like his predecessor, to be obsessed with controlling non-governmental organizations,” said Ngwenya. “This is typical of authoritarian regimes. Where they fail to provide for services, they look for scapegoats. I suggest that the president focus on delivery – government delivery – rather than molesting and intimidating non-governmental organizations.”
The proposed law against claims of torture or abduction appears to be aimed at silencing Zimbabwe’s opposition.
The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party has accused Mnangagwa’s government of abducting and beating opposition members.
In May, three of the MDC’s female party members, including a lawmaker, alleged they were abducted by state agents, beaten, and sexually assaulted.
The women were re-arrested in June and charged with lying about being abducted.
The information minister said such claims were concocted to tarnish the government’s image.
While the proposed amendments still have to go to parliament for debate and voting, before the president signs it into law, the ruling ZANU-PF party has a majority in both chambers.
So, any amendment the government proposes is almost guaranteed to become law.