Back to Index
This article participates on the following special index pages:
Interception of Communications Bill - Index of articles
might be listening
June 29, 2007
the Index of articles on the Interception of Communications Bill
of Communications Bill, awaiting only Zimbabwean President Robert
Mugabe's signature to become law, will further constrict the flow
of information already hampered by other laws deemed repressive,
claimed civil society groups.
If approved by the president,
the law will empower the government to tap telephone conversations,
check emails and monitor cyberspace for material seen as posing
a threat to national security.
The bill, described
by Zimbabwe Lawyers
for Human Rights, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), as
"badly drafted, self-destructive and disrespectful of the fundamental
rights and freedoms of the populace", was recently passed by
Independent media reports
alleged that the government was in the process of installing imported
call-monitoring equipment. Nelson Chamisa, a member of parliament
from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), claimed
during a debate in the House that a phonecall interceptor had been
set up outside Harare, the capital.
the bill has been passed into law, there is already evidence that
the little space for freedom of expression that remained has been
affected," Foster Dongozi, secretary-general of the Zimbabwe
Union of Journalists (ZUJ) and a reporter for an independent
newspaper, told IRIN.
acceptance of the bill, fear has gripped sources of information
and journalists, to the extent that there is a reluctance to release
... [information], thus the reduced capacity by the media to get
to the truth," said Dongozi, and cited a case in which a representative
of an organisation had refused to talk to him because he was afraid
the government had begun monitoring people.
interest of national security
The official daily newspaper,
The Herald, quoted Transport and Communications Minister Christopher
Mushohwe as telling parliament earlier this month that the proposed
law was crucial because the advancement in information technology
posed a threat to national security.
He said the bill had
taken into account individual rights, as enshrined in the Constitution,
and the national interest. Mushohwe pointed out that the legislation
was not peculiar to Zimbabwe, and other countries such as the United
States, the United Kingdom and South Africa, had similar statutes.
"These are countries which are regarded as the beacons of democracy,"
Under the proposed new
law telecommunication providers will be required to install hardware
and software enabling the interception of communications.
For the last
six years the government has used two other laws - the Public
Order and Security Act (POSA), and the Access
to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) - to stifle
freedom of expression.
POSA has been invoked
to stop or ban gatherings considered too critical of the government;
AIPPA, which regulates media operations through a commission, was
used to shut down several independent newspapers. Heavy fines can
be imposed on journalists and media houses for printing or airing
any information the commission deems to be untrue.
room to move
Dongozi said the ZUJ
was "dismayed at this renewed onslaught on the media",
adding that the government had chosen to snoop on private and professional
communication after realising that many people were turning to cyberspace
to exchange information.
"The phone and the
internet are now the main sources of livelihood for many journalists
who have been rendered jobless by AIPPA, and it is regrettable that
the government is attempting to put the final nail on media freedom
through another Big Brother law," said Dongozi.
According to one freelance
reporter: "The operating atmosphere is too heavy for journalists;
we are always casting a glance over the shoulder because we feel
we are being watched and followed. Now it is worse, because we are
also being listened to; it is so scary."
In submissions to parliament
in April 2006, the Zimbabwe chapter of the Media Institute of Southern
Africa (MISA) urged that the Interception of Communications Bill
be thrown out.
witnessed the promulgation of a number of repressive laws, which
have contributed to the shrinking of the democratic space and the
operating environment of human rights defenders and activists,"
the media watchdog wrote.
of the ... bill adds to the number of laws which have attacked the
enjoyment and furtherance of human rights in Zimbabwe, in particular
freedom of expression and the right to receive and impart information
among other groups."
representatives argued that the bill was unconstitutional, saying
that it was in contravention of section 20 of the constitution,
which provides for freedom of expression, whereas "interception
connotes interference, obstruction, stoppage of flow, seizure and
grabbing [of information]".
The MDC said although
it had nothing to hide, it suspected that the law would be abused
to victimise its members under the guise of preserving national
"The bill is yet
another tool in the devil's box. An axe is not bad when used to
fell a tree, only becoming so when one murders his child with it;
similarly, the law would not be bad if it were not clear that it
is intended to cripple the opposition, particularly in the run-up
to next year's presidential and parliamentary elections," said
Chamisa, spokesman for the MDC faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai.
Without a vibrant, independent
media, he told IRIN, the opposition would find it difficult to reach
out to the electorate ahead of next year's elections.
Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), a labour umbrella body whose
members have been arrested while protesting against the rising cost
of living and unemployment, maintained that the country was not
under any security threat to warrant such a law.
is a human rights issue, and we are concerned that the bill is being
pushed through even when there are no signs that the country is
under threat of international terrorism or internal war," ZCTU
secretary-general Wellington Chibebe told IRIN.
The unions were also
afraid that if the bill passed into law it would further restrict
their efforts to monitor and report labour issues.
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.