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ZIMBABWE: Exit visas undemocratic, say civic groups
September 15, 2005

JOHANNESBURG - Opposition and civic groups in Zimbabwe have warned that the proposed exit visas for citizens would amount to the renewed repression of government opponents.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa told IRIN that a government team comprising officials from his ministry and the department of foreign affairs were working on draft regulations to make exit visas mandatory for Zimbabweans going abroad. He said the law would be taken to cabinet for assessment before being passed to parliament for debate and possible approval.

Although he denied that the proposed regulations were meant as a punitive measure aimed at opponents of the ruling party and government, Chinamasa admitted that some provisions of the recent constitutional amendments would be used to 'contain' political dissidents.

"It is a simple matter. When a country is under siege, like we are, the first thing is to identify the cause. In our case we find that the country has been demonised and reduced in international status by its own citizens, who choose to lie to the world about their own country. There is a need for us to protect the country from all forms of attack - verbal and physical. Those who are innocent should not be afraid," Chinamasa said.

Daniel Molokela, a Zimbabwean lawyer and human rights activist based in Johannesburg, said it was clear that the proposed exit visa was "intended to limit or stop opponents from travelling to places where they can make statements reflecting the situation about Zimbabwe".

"We can prepare for a time when politicians and human rights activists will be denied exit visas, just as newspapers are being denied licences [to publish] right now," Molokela commented. "Ordinary Zimbabweans will also find it hard to travel because they will be required to meet certain conditions to qualify for visas, should such laws be enacted."

Opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) spokesman Paul Themba-Nyathi said the proposed visa regulations were "barbaric", and evidence that the government was getting "desperate".

"What we have is a government fighting its own citizens through all [the] limitations they can find. The political end to be achieved is to confine the MDC leadership to Zimbabwe, and thus ensure they cannot go around telling the world of ZANU-PF excesses," Themba-Nyathi told IRIN. "The MDC will oppose all repressive laws, and we call on the masses of Zimbabwe to join us in doing that."

Under the new constitutional amendments signed into law by President Robert Mugabe last week, the government is empowered to seize the passports or travel documents of people suspected of undermining national interests while visiting other countries. Senior government sources said the new law was likely to become effective in January next year.

Europe, New Zealand, Australia and the United States have maintained targeted sanctions, including travel bans, against a number of ruling party and government officials for several years.

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