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Interception of Communications Bill - Index of articles
Bill proposes state access to electronic communications
August 30, 2006
HARARE - Zimbabwe is proposing to add
another repressive law to its raft of existing media legislation,
further narrowing the space for freedom of expression.
Civic society presented a united front at a parliamentary portfolio
hearing but the proposed legislation appears to be a foregone conclusion,
with electronic censorship apparatus already undergoing tests.
The parliamentary communications portfolio committee began hearing
oral submissions on the Interception
of Communications Bill on Wednesday. If passed, it will allow
the military, intelligence services, police and the office of the
president to monitor e-mail correspondence, eavesdrop on telephone
conversations and censor internet access.
Alliance, a media umbrella body, told portfolio committee chairperson
Leo Mugabe, a nephew of President Robert Mugabe, that in its present
form the bill infringed constitutional guarantees of the freedom
of expression. The alliance represents the Zimbabwe
Union of Journalists, the Zimbabwe National Editors' Forum,
Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe and the Media
Institute of Southern Africa-Zimbabwe.
According to media lawyer Wilbert Mandinde, the proposed law comes
on top of existing legislation that has led to the closure of six
newspapers. "The prevailing legislative environment has severely
hindered and undermined the enjoyment of the right to freedom of
expression and information in Zimbabwe. It is the hope of the organisations
that the committee shall note our concern and, by so doing, assist
in protecting the rights of Zimbabweans as enshrined in the constitution."
President Mugabe, after being isolated from Western countries on
grounds of human rights abuses, has adopted a 'look east' policy
in a bid to secure foreign investment, resulting in the acquisition
of electronic censorship and surveillance systems from China, among
other imports, according to local media reports.
A report by Human Rights Watch this month commented: "China's system
of internet censorship and surveillance, popularly known as the
'Great Firewall', is the most advanced in the world."
The proposed legislation also forces internet service providers
to buy surveillance equipment at a cost of US$1 million per provider,
a stipulation that could force many service providers to shut down,
as the shortage of foreign currency is symptomatic of the country's
economic meltdown. Zimbabwe has the highest inflation rate in the
world - around 1,000 percent annually - and unemployment of more
than 70 percent.
A spokesman for the Zimbabwe Internet Service Providers Association,
Jim Holland, said the proposed law would allow interception of private
and confidential information.
"This could include communications between lawyers and clients,
doctors and patients, priests and their flock, journalists and their
sources, for example. These could all involve completely legal activities,
but disclosure of information in such communications could cause
serious harm to the individuals concerned."
Holland recommended to the committee that the bill be withdrawn.
Veritas, an organisation encouraging the promulgation of good laws,
and Zimbabwe Lawyers
for Human Rights also called for withdrawal of the bill.
Brigadier Sango, a serving army officer, told the committee in his
submission that "in these days of the scourge of 'mercenaryism',
terrorism and organised crime, it is our feeling that if the bill
is signed into law, it will help us fight the scourges."
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