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of expression and the 2005 parliamentary elections
Bar Association (IBA)
Extracted from the IBA Human Rights Violations in Zimbabwe supplement
was written by a Zimbabwean journalist who wishes to remain anonymous
as he was denied accreditation by Zimbabwe’s Media and Information
Commission. He travels to South Africa regularly in search of freelance
A free and fair
election will be impossible next year if the current political climate
is allowed to persist. All manner of Zimbabweans’ fundamental human
rights have been so badly eroded that most of their civil and political
liberties exist only in the most vestigial form.
casualty of all has been Zimbabweans’ constitutionally guaranteed
right to freedom of expression and its subsidiary rights to receive
and impart information without hindrance. The country’s independent
media have borne the brunt of this sustained onslaught to silence
criticism of the government, while the national public media have
been hijacked by the ruling party to disseminate a relentless tidal
wave of propaganda portraying a favourable image of government’s
policies and performance, and to malign the political opposition
and those individuals and organisations that have publicly objected
to government’s abuse of power.
Information and Protection of Privacy Act
The main instrument used to gag free expression in the country is
the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA),
which essentially turns the business of gathering and disseminating
news – the practice of journalism – into a privilege, which is itself
controlled under the Act by excessively restrictive clauses that
carry heavy criminal penalties. This anti-democratic law has been
used to close down the country’s most popular daily newspaper The
Daily News, for what amounts to the petty administrative offence
of failing to register with a government-appointed media and information
commission. Its sister Sunday paper suffered the same fate, and
another weekly newspaper, The Tribune, was also ordered to close
earlier this year for similarly trivial reasons. The authorities
have also used this law, among others, to arrest and harass scores
of journalists with the clear intention of discouraging them from
investigating and reporting on the excesses of government.
are other, equally restrictive laws that also affect freedom of
expression and the operations of the media. For example, the Broadcasting
Services Act (BSA) ostensibly allows for other broadcasting entities,
but contains so many restrictive clauses that it is virtually impossible
for private investors to establish independent broadcasting companies.
Four years after that ruling Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings still
enjoys a defacto monopoly of the airwaves which the governing party
has ruthlessly exploited to malign the political opposition and
its critics, particularly at election time. And although the broadcasting
authority of Zimbabwe has recently invited applications for more
broadcasters, there are no illusions that government is about to
grant equitable access to the airwaves.
and Security Act
The Public Order and Security Act, primarily intended to restrict
Zimbabweans’ freedom of assembly and association, also provides
severe sentences for those ridiculing the presidency and the uniformed
forces. And now a new law makes provision for a jail term of up
to 20 years for simply ‘communicating’ certain falsehoods.
Law (Codification and Reform) Bill
The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Bill makes it a criminal
offence to communicate ‘to any other person a statement which is
wholly or materially false with the intention, or realising that
there is a real risk, of inciting or promoting public disorder or
public violence or endangering public safety or adversely affecting
the defence and economic interests of Zimbabwe, or undermining public
confidence in a law enforcement agency, the Prison Service or the
Defence Forces of Zimbabwe; or interfering with, disrupting or interrupting
any essential service’. Another clause also makes it an offence
for any citizen, either in Zimbabwe or outside the country, to make
an ‘abusive, indecent or obscene statement’ about the presidency,
even if it is true. This frighteningly Draconian piece of legislation
is certain to silence potential sources of information who will
be terrified of falling foul of the law by ‘communicating’ information
that cannot be substantiated.
Faced with such viciously repressive instruments, the independent
media have no chance of fulfilling their role as watchdogs of government
activity. Nor will they be able to report on the partisan activities
of the police force and other security agencies, which continue
to persecute the political opposition and critics of government.
Worse still, independent media workers continue to be subjected
to illegal intimidation and harassment by ruling party supporters
and other shadowy quasi-government agencies.
large parts of the country were closed to the distribution of independent
newspapers in the countdown to the 2002 presidential election and
the parliamentary election before that. This remains the case today.
Thousands of copies of newspapers were destroyed, and vendors and
readers alike were attacked and terrorised. In one instance a reader
was even killed allegedly because he possessed a copy of The Daily
clearly illustrate the vulnerability of the private media and the
power of the govern ment’s propaganda machine, which continues to
spew hate messages that dehumanise members of the opposition, journalists
and many other members of civic society who are brave enough to
publicly criticise government.
make a mockery of the international covenants Zimbabwe has signed
– including the SADC election principles and guidelines – guaranteeing
and promoting freedom of expression, media diversity and access
to infor mation. Unless all these repressive laws are repealed and
the violence against the media – and the people of Zimbabwe – is
brought to an end well before Election Day, there cannot be any
hope for a free and fair election in 2005.
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