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put Zimbabwe under "Martial Law"
for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR)
Africa Reports (AR No. 71, 27-Jul-06)
Gumbo in Harare
Mugabe is consolidating his grip on Zimbabwe through new autocratic
laws that analysts say are calculated to cripple opposition to the
veteran leader's 26-year-rule and muzzle criticism over the imploding
strategy to silence dissent includes attempts to spy on private
email and telephone messages, the jamming of private radio stations
broadcasting to Zimbabwe, and restricting civic and opposition groups
by branding legitimate resistance to Mugabe's rule "terrorism".
the national director of the Catholic Commission for Justice and
Peace, said three new bills expected to be pushed through when parliament
resumes in August will effectively put the country under undeclared
martial rule, as Mugabe seeks to curb growing opposition to his
rule spawned by Zimbabwe's worsening economic hardships.
"It would seem
there is a state of siege from the way the state apparatus is being
used to deny people their freedoms," said Chaumba.
Patrick Chinamasa has tabled the three laws - the Interception
of Communications Bill, the Suppression
of Foreign and International Terrorism Bill and the Non
Governmental Organisations Bill - all of which which now await
a senior lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe's Institute of Development
Studies, said the legislative package is clearly designed to consolidate
Mugabe's grip on power. "It is meant to create the impression that
the government is watching its opponents and that it is aware of
every move they make," he said. "This represents a movement towards
some kind of new fascism."
of Communications Bill, published on June 9, will give Mugabe's
government unfettered authority to monitor phones and emails sent
from both land- and internet-based addresses. Mugabe claims the
bill is meant to protect national security and fight crime. Under
this legislation, the government will establish a communications
monitoring centre which will "monitor and intercept certain communications
in the course of their transmission through a telecommunication,
postal or any other related service system".
the bill is part of a renewed government crackdown, which also includes
tough policing and political intimidation, designed to outlaw criticism
and entrench Mugabe's rule in the face of the growing swell of opposition
to his draconian policies.
"This is a well
calculated move to crush any dissenting views," said constitutional
law expert Lovemore Madhuku, who chairs the National Constitutional
Assembly, a broad alliance of civic groups agitating for constitutional
reform. "It is a challenge to all the forces fighting for democracy
in Zimbabwe. This should not be seen in isolation. It is a broad-based
move to keep opponents in check. One can actually call it intimidation,
of Foreign and International Terrorism Bill, which has already sailed
past its first reading in parliament, is another proposed law in
a cocktail of legal instruments that analysts say would further
curtail most basic freedoms. The law will see those convicted of
working to overthrow Mugabe jailed for life.
It comes in
the wake of the brief detention earlier this year of opposition
members and police officers, who later had charges against them
of stockpiling arms and plotting to assassinate President Mugabe
dropped. THe authorities had accused the men of working with a UK-based
organisation called the Zimbabwe Freedom Movement which was said
to be plotting to end Mugabe's 26-year rule.
bill is certain to sail through parliament, where Mugabe's Zanu-PF
party enjoys a comfortable majority.
In this year's
alleged assassination plot on Mugabe, a Zimbabwe court denied bail
to Peter Hitschmann, a former soldier for the country's pre-independence
white government, who will soon face trial. Some political analysts
saw the arrest as an attempt to put pressure on Mugabe's opponents.
The state says an array of weapons found in the eastern city of
Mutare were meant to be used to disrupt Mugabe's 82nd birthday celebrations
held there in February.
Mugabe, in power
since independence from Britain in 1980,
accuses the opposition of working with western countries to try
to oust him from power through "mercenary activities".
The draft terrorism
law defines mercenary activity as "an act aimed at overthrowing
a government or undermining the constitutional order, sovereignty
or territorial integrity of a state, or private military-related
assistance in an armed conflict between two or more states or within
the terrorism bill could be used by government to jail critics,
including journalists working for foreign media.
Mugabe has branded
private radio stations broadcasting from outside the country "terrorist
organisations". The government has been jamming broadcasts from
Voice of America's Studio 7 radio station, almost the sole source
of reasonably independent information for the rural poor.
While the authorities
have flatly denied jamming the broadcasts, media experts say the
jamming signal is originating from Thornhill Air Force Base, near
Gweru, using equipment provided by China. A statement issued by
Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe, MMPZ, said Studio 7 broadcasts
were "suffocated by a steady droning sound similar to that used
to jam SW Radio Africa and Radio
Voice of the People frequencies last year". SW Radio and Voice
of the People are two banned independent radio stations that try
to beam broadcasts into Zimbabwe from outside the country.
he termed "totalitarian tyranny of thought", MMPZ executive director
Andy Moyse said the latest jamming of Studio 7,
combined with the proposed "snoopers' charter" allowing interference
with private mail and internet communications, represented the "final
steps in the total control of all information received by Zimbabweans".
With his new
package of legislation, Mugabe also intends to curtail activities
of civic society. The bill on non-government organisations, NGOs,
seeks to repeal the Private Voluntary Organisations Act and give
the government broad powers to close down groups considered to be
critical of its policies by imposing restrictive registration formalities.
NGOs dealing with human rights and governance would be denied access
to outside financial assistance in a bid to curtail their contacts
with international organisations. Organisations found to be in breach
of these regulations would be subject to criminal prosecution.
NGO law will have the effect of criminalising civil society organisations,
especially those working in the field of human rights and governance
by making them liable to prosecution for legitimate and peaceful
activities of promoting human rights in Zimbabwe," said the Madhuku.
there was little to be be gained from challenging the constitutionality
of these laws, given that government has already shown it will not
obey court rulings that do not fit with its programme.
Mugabe has also
published the Judicial
Service Bill, which is aimed at improving the working conditions
of a new coterie of judges pliant to the presidential will.
Gumbo is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.
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