Crackdown: Govt plans tough new law against protests, ‘cooperation’ with foreign governments

Hundreds were arrested in protests, January 2019 (pic: AP/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

Under tough new laws planned by the Zimbabwe government, you will be arrested for protesting around the same time as key international events or visits. You can also be arrested for “cooperating” with foreign governments and for alleging an abduction.

Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said at a post-Cabinet Briefing on Tuesday that government had approved amendments to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act [Chapter 9 :23].

Under these proposed laws, it will become criminal to “cooperate” with foreign governments or hold protests close to key international events or visits.

“The amendments will criminalise the conduct of isolated citizens or groups who, for self-gain co-operate or connive with hostile foreign governments to inflict suffering on Zimbabwean citizens and to cause damage to national interests,” Mutsvangwa told reporters.

“The individuals or groups involve themselves in issues of foreign relations without verifying facts or engaging domestic authorities. Such wilful misinformation of foreign governments will therefore make the individuals or groups liable for prosecution.”

Mutsvangwa says “foreign policy of Zimbabwe must be based on the promotion and protection of the national interests of Zimbabwe; respect for international law; peaceful co-existence with other nations; and the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means”.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa came to power with promises of breaking from the repression of his predecessor, Robert Mugabe. However, Mnangagwa’s time in office has been blighted by violent crackdowns on protesters; standout events are August 1 in 2018, when the army shot and killed six people, and January 2019, when security forces brutally put down protests that erupted after government dropped fuel subsidies, causing prices to rise by 150%.

‘Timed protests’

Over recent months, the government has accused opposition activists of working with foreign powers to destabilise the country, a refrain the ZANU PF party has used over previous years. Government says the opposition times its protests to target international meetings and events, and now wants to put a law to stop such protests.

Said Mutsvangwa: “Other actions that will become punishable include planned and timed protests deliberately designed to coincide with major international, continental or regional events or visits.”

The government also believes allegations of abduction of torture by multiple activists are fake, and is also making such claims illegal.

“Unsubstantiated claims of torture and abductions will also be criminalised,” says Mutsvangwa.

While the Mnangagwa administration has repealed repressive laws such as the Public Order and Security Act and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, rights groups say violations have worsened under his leadership.