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ZIMBABWE: Exit visas undemocratic, say civic groups
- Opposition and civic groups in Zimbabwe have warned that the proposed
exit visas for citizens would amount to the renewed repression of
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
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
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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