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  • Mugabe to crack down on internet use
    June 10, 2005

    HARARE - Zimbabwe plans to outlaw the dissemination through the internet of information and material it deems offensive, President Robert Mugabe said during a ceremony to mark the opening of Parliament boycotted by the opposition yesterday.

    Mugabe said his government, which enjoys an absolute parliamentary majority, shall also table before the House legislation to curtail corruption and white collar crime such as money laundering and illegal electronic transfer of money outside Zimbabwe.

    The 81-year old leader, for long accused of standing by while military generals and cronies in his ruling ZANU PF party loot national wealth, said: "In order to deal with the emergence of more sophisticated forms of corruption and crimes such as electronic money laundering, (fraudulent) electronic transfer of funds, dissemination of offensive materials and even cyber-terrorism, the necessary legislation will be tabled before the House during this Session."

    Mugabe's statement is the first time ever the government has publicly confirmed it wants to monitor and control the use of the internet in Zimbabwe.

    ZimOnline broke the story last year that Harare had sought help and equipment from China to bug into people's emails and monitor exchange of information between both private and public citizens.

    After the government closed down newspapers and severely clamped down on all alternative voices, Zimbabweans have had to resort to the internet to communicate and share ideas on subjects considered politically sensitive.

    ZimOnline, available on the internet, was specifically set up to provide a free platform for the free exchange and sharing of ideas and information on and about Zimbabwe following the clampdown on newspapers.

    Some Zimbabwean journalists have also set up several radio stations outside the country to beam broadcasts into the country.

    Information technology experts say neither Harare nor its Beijing friends have the know-how to block or monitor every internet-based communication. But ZimOnline understands the new legislation promised by Mugabe will require internet service providers and owners of internet shops to physically monitor people using their services and report those communicating information deemed offensive.

    Zimbabwe's sixth Parliament is also expected to debate and pass several key legislation including amending the constitution to bring the Senate abolished more than 10 years ago.

    The House will also enact new laws liquidating the rights of private land owners by making all farmland, except conservancies, state property.

    The controversial Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) Bill, passed by the Fifth Parliament but which Mugabe refused to sign, shall also be brought before the House.

    The NGO Bill proposes banning all civic bodies from voter education while those focusing on governance issues will be barred from receiving foreign funding. Civic society experts have warned that up to 90 percent of NGOs could close down if the law is enacted.

    ZANU PF won 78 of the 120 contested parliamentary seats. The MDC won 41 while former government propaganda chief, Jonathan Moyo, who stood as an independent, won one seat. Mugabe is constitutionally empowered to appoint 12 unelected people to Parliament and also appoint eight governors who also seat in the House and have voting rights.

    Another 10 seats are reserved for traditional chiefs. The chiefs have since independence in 1980 always voted with the government and are not expected to change their stance. This leaves Mugabe and ZANU PF able to marshal a total 108 votes, which is more than two thirds of the 150-member House and enough for the government to pass any legislation including amending the constitution.

    Meanwhile, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa accused the MDC of immaturity after the opposition party boycotted the opening of Parliament in support of a two-day mass job stayaway called by a coalition comprising the party, labour unions and other civic groups.

    The coalition says it called the stayaway, which kicked off on a low note yesterday, to protest against a government blitz against informal traders and shanty dwellers that has left thousands of families without income or shelter.

    The group bringing together the MDC, Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and the National Constitutional Assembly civic alliance says the job stayaway that ends today was also to register Zimbabweans' anger at deepening economic hardships. - ZimOnline

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