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Repressive Legal Framework Denies Free Choice
Joseph James, President of the Law Society of Zimbabwe
Extracted from International Bar Association, Zimbabwe Election Focus
March 25, 2005

"The situation at the moment has not really changed compared to 2000 or 2002 in terms of fair and free elections being held"

Zimbabwe has not complied with the requirements of the SADC protocol. The essence of these is that there should be fairness to all the parties taking part in the elections, and that people should be able to exercise their democratic right to vote in an atmosphere which is free and fair. On the surface it appears as if the Government of Zimbabwe has complied, as legislation has been passed by Parliament and signed into effect by the President. These laws however infringe upon the basic human rights of the Zimbabwean people. Also the manner in which the laws are applied gives rise to concern.

No right to associate
The most significant and most repressive piece of legislation is the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) passed in 2002, which repealed the notorious Law and Order (Maintenance) Act which had been passed by the Smith regime, and kept on the statute books for 22 years by our Government. It is significant that POSA became law just before the Presidential elections in 2002. POSA effectively prevents freedom of assembly and association. Section16 of POSA makes it an offence to criticise the President, who is the leader of one of the two main parties contesting the election, and should be subject to the normal criticism during the elections.

Freedom of information denied
The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act prevents Zimbabweans from freely receiving and imparting ideas and information: this is reflected in the closure of four newspapers which are regarded as anti-Government in the recent past. The Broadcasting Act effectively keeps the air-waves in Zimbabwe under the control of the Government.

NGOs threatened
The Non-Governmental Organisation Bill which only awaits the President's signature to become law is a threat hanging over those nongovernmental organisations who may wish to be involved in voter education.

Access to State broadcaster restricted
The Broadcasting Services (Access to radio and television during an Election) Regulations 2005 appear to grant contesting political parties equal time to the broadcasting of election matters; they also prescribe how the parties may advertise on the airwaves. Unfortunately the cost of the advertisements is high, and in practice exactly how much access is given to a particular political party is dependent upon the discretion of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings, which the Ministry of Information controls. Consequently, repressive pieces of legislation such as POSA, AIPPA and the Broadcasting Act need either to be repealed or amended drastically simply as a start to ensure free and fair elections.

Voters' roll 'shambolic'
The most significant change in this election has been the enactment of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Act, but unfortunately the Registrar General's office continues to oversee the voters' roll, which is crucial: the Registrar General's office has been criticised for a shambolic roll containing dead and ghost voters. The army continues to supply personnel to run the elections, and the leaders of the armed forces made it very clear where their allegiance lies.

Rule of law crisis continues
The situation at the moment has not really changed compared to 2000 or 2002 in terms of fair and free elections being held: political violence continues, and the Police continue to arrest both MDC and Zanu-PF members who allegedly indulge in political violence. There continues to be a selective application of the law. Foreign observers need to see how the laws of this country are applied by the Executive in order to appreciate the issues. This election will not end the abuse of human rights and the rule of law crisis in Zimbabwe: this can be seen in the disruption of the MDC meetings, the harassment of journalists, and the recent amendment to AIPPA which basically criminalises journalism.

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