Reporters Without Borders Urge Zimbabwe To Abandon "Patriotic Bill"
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), an international non-profit and non-governmental organisation whose stated aim is safeguarding the right to freedom of information, has urged Zimbabwe to abandon the “Patrotic Bill” saying it poses a major threat to journalism.
The ZANU PF-dominated Parliament passed the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill, or Patriotic Bill for short, on the night of 31 May 2023.
Clause 2 of the Bill provides for a death sentence or life imprisonment for anyone “wilfully injuring the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe”.
The Bill was passed by the National Assembly and approved by the Senate and will take effect as soon as it receives approval from the President, who has three weeks to sign it into law from the moment he receives it.
Sadibou Marong, the director of RSF’s sub-Saharan Africa desk, said:
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Journalists are exposed to the heavy penalties envisaged in this law, which violates the constitution and international standards on freedom of expression. This law is a formidable tool that will completely muzzle the press.
Two months before the presidential and parliamentary elections, we urge the authorities to respect basic human rights, which include the right to assembly, the right to express oneself, and the right to inform. Journalists must be able to carry out their work without fear.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) executive director Roselyn Hanzi said the law will set a bad precedent in Africa and could lead to more self-censorship in Zimbabwe. She said:
If a journalist is invited to attend a meeting by a foreign government, they may be forced to reject the invite as they will not know if these topics will not be discussed.
Any other participant at the meeting can raise that subject, and mere attendance may even lead to arrest.
Hanzi argued that as the Bill’s provisions are loosely worded, they are liable to be misinterpreted and are therefore all the more likely “to stifle freedom of expression”.
She said some of the provisions violate Zimbabwe’s constitution, Article 48 of which limits the death penalty to persons convicted of aggravated murder.
The proposed amendments to Clause 2 (3) read as follows:
Any citizen or permanent resident of Zimbabwe who, within or outside Zimbabwe, intentionally partakes in any meeting, whose object or one of whose objects the accused knows, or has reasonable grounds for believing involves the consideration of or the planning for the implementation or enlargement of sanctions or a trade boycott against Zimbabwe (whether those sanctions or that boycott is untargeted or targets any individual or official, or class of individuals or officials), but whose effects indiscriminately affect the people of Zimbabwe as a whole, or any substantial section thereof shall be guilty of wilfully damaging the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe and liable to…
The clause provides penalties that include a fine not exceeding level twelve or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 10 years, or both.
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