Back to Index
This article participates on the following special index pages:
Interception of Communications Bill - Index of articles
email and internet censorship by the Zimbabwe government
June 04, 2004
It comes as no surprise
that the Zimbabwe government is turning its attention to censoring email
and internet communications. Freedom of expression has been under siege
in Zimbabwe for the last few years. Increasingly Zimbabweans find their
human rights infringed upon in a variety of insidious ways.
Just think about it
for a second. You have to give notice to the police if you intend to hold
a public meeting. You can be harassed by the State if gathered in groups
of more than two. Wearing a pro-democracy T-shirt might get you beaten
up by intolerant thugs. The Daily News was unceremoniously shut down.
Editors from independent newspapers are routinely harassed and intimidated.
And, by the way, our
television and radio stations parrot the ruling party line.
So it's small wonder
that the Zimbabwe government has recognised that email and internet communications
remain one of the only avenues through which Zimbabweans can share information.
Their latest move is a clear indication of two things. First, their paranoia.
Democratic governments should be encouraging rather than limiting the
right of their citizens to communicate, disseminate and access information.
Second, the ruling party is yet again illustrating its weakened position
in Zimbabwean politics. As we approach Parliamentary Elections it is clear
that Zanu PF is afraid that free expression will inhibit their success
at the polls rather than assist their election campaign.
Quite clearly Zanu
PF is actively promoting an unfair election environment that will ultimately
call into question the legitimacy of the Parliamentary Elections.
Curiously, as Zimbabweans
face increasing repression it also gives us the opportunity to show our
mettle. Let's look at what we can do as ordinary citizens who believe
in our right to access and share information.
Very few Zimbabweans
use email and the internet to send political messages or share their political
views. Most often people discuss politics at work, church and when they
socialise. What the ruling party should realise is that they can make
it harder for Zimbabweans to communicate on a mass basis but they can't
stop people talking.
Let's be clear: it
is not illegal to receive human rights and civic information either via
email, through the post or by leaflet dropped in your post box. If this
were the case then all newspapers carrying an opinion different from the
ruling party would be banned. We might be on our way there but we're not
So an act of defiance,
an act of faith, and certainly an act of patriotism in the hope for a
new democratic Zimbabwe will be YOU asking to remain on important email
mailing address lists. These include Kubatana.net, National Constitutional
Association (NCA), Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), Crisis Coalition
in Zimbabwe, Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ), Media Institute
of Southern Africa (MISA), Zvakwana, Sokwanele, ZWNews, and others.
Both ISPs and the
ruling party do not have the capacity to check the content of all electronic
communication. One of the ruling party's tactics is to issue inflammatory
and scary directives whilst having very little capacity to follow through
on their threats. They hope that people will get scared and will censor
themselves. Don't let them manipulate and frighten you!
Yes, they can use
"sniffer" programmes that flag certain words and draw attention
to that specific email. The content of that email might then be perused
by peeping-Jonathans. The effort that is required to manage this type
of snooping is enormous, so one tactic is to flood the email system with
emails that contain so-called dangerous words to make the ruling party's
job that much harder. For example every time you send an email put a sentence
It is time for
mass action: mobilise and fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Be part of the
movement for respect and dignity: stay-away from unprotected sex.
at the bottom of your
If enough people do
this, sniffer programmes will pick up on key words that the censors will
have deemed "malicious" and they'll soon be bored by ploughing
through loads of innocuous messages.
Another tactic you
can use if you're afraid of receiving or imparting information is to create
a web based email address. Hotmail and Yahoo addresses are free and they're
internet based. Being internet based means that your messages do not pass
through Internet Service Provider's mail servers. Perhaps you don't have
access to the internet at work but you could always use an internet café
once a week in order to stay informed. And if you can't be bothered to
go this extra mile then you should reflect on whether you believe freedom
of expression is worth protecting and fighting for. Or not.
upon all Internet Service Providers to roundly reject any attempts to
have their subscribers' email communications monitored. We are pleased
to share with you this excerpt from a recent Zimbabwe Internet Service
Provider Association (ZISPA) statement:
ZISPA wishes to confirm
that there is no monitoring of any sort of any e-mails by any of its members
at the moment and that none of its members have signed the proposed contract
ZISPA Press Release, "Monitoring
of e-mails" dated 3 June 2004
Keep on talking. Keep
on communicating. Kubatana.net facilitates email and internet activism
workshops. Get in touch with us if you have a group of 10 people who would
like to learn more about using email for advocacy.
Visit the Kubatana
Please credit www.kubatana.net if you make use of material from this website.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.