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Govt strengthens repressive instruments
Clemence Manyukwe, The Zimbabwe Independent
March 24, 2006

http://www.theindependent.co.zw/viewinfo.cfm?linkid=21&id=379&siteid=1

Moves to introduce draconian laws such as the Suppression of International Terrorism and the Interception of Communications Bills reveal government insecurity and plans to intensify repression as the economy deteriorates further.

Despite its failure to prosecute opposition leaders on several trumped up treason charges, including in the Mutare arms cache case last week, government is working on the Suppression of Foreign and International Terrorism Bill that will allow for a further crackdown on the opposition and dissenters accused of collaborating with foreigners to destabilise the country.

The proposed Interception of Communications Bill, details of which were first published in this paper last week, will also strengthen the instruments of repression.

The law seeks to empower the chief of defence intelligence, the director-general of the Central Intelligence Organisation, the commissioner of police and the commissioner-general of revenue to intercept telephones, fixed lines and cellular phones and e-mail messages sent by Internet.

When it comes into effect the government will use it to establish a telecommunications agency called the Monitoring and Interception of Communications Centre manned by spies tasked with prying into private mail.

Analysts this week said recent developments characterised by the crackdown on opposition MDC members following the discovery of an arms cache in Mutare show government was running scared and wants to launch a campaign of repression to consolidate its faltering grip on power.

Political analyst Heneri Dzinotyiwei said the developments point to a government increasingly defensive in the face of heightening unpopularity.

"The government is becoming defensive. There is more reaction to the loss of favour and support. That of course is not justified," Dzinotyiwei said.

"But the government is failing to see the root causes of its unpopularity. It is trying to address the symptoms. It won’t succeed."

Dzinotyiwei said by concentrating on issues such as prying onto people’s private lives, government was trying to divert attention from real issues. He said there were no credible grounds for government to come up with such legislation, except an attempt to curb rising discontent.

The new legislation also appears to buttress arguments by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights that in Zimbabwe: "There has been a flurry of new legislation and the revival of old laws used under the Smith regime to control (and) manipulate public opinion…"

The commission also slammed state security agencies, saying "elements of the CIO were engaged in activities contrary to the international practice of intelligence organisations".

The CIO last week was severely criticised by Justice Charles Hungwe for intimidating state lawyers in a bid to sustain the alleged plot to assassinate President Robert Mugabe linked to the Mutare arms cache "discovery".

The proposed laws fall in the same category as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Public Order and Security Act which the African Commission has said had a "chilling effect and spread a cloud of fear" in Zimbabwe.

Analysts say government’s insecurity in the face of the rising tide of opposition on the political, social and economic fronts was behind the current efforts to devise a chain of restrictive measures.

The Reconstruction of State-Indebted Insolvent Companies Act and the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment No 17 Act are seen as part of this. The Reconstruction of State-Indebted Insolvent Companies Act gives state-appointed administrators powers to enable them to forfeit to the state shares or securities in a reconstructed company. The Act was used to legalise the government’s inheritance of businessman Mutumwa Mawere’s empire SMM Holdings under the guise of preventing its collapse and saving jobs.

The repressive Council for Higher Education, which Mugabe said was put in place with "a view to improving operations of higher learning by investing council with certain disciplinary powers over students and lecturers", will further restrict academic freedom.

A number of student leaders mainly at the University of Zimbabwe have been expelled and dozens others countrywide have been suspended.

The 17th constitutional amendment was meant to deal with white commercial farmers who were posing a headache to the government through challenging its chaotic agrarian reform in the courts.

The president of the Law Society of Zimbabwe Joseph James on Tuesday said the introduction of the latest repressive laws pointed to its insecurity.

"A government which constantly passes repressive legislation fears that it does not have the support of its people," he said. "In a democratic society if you believe in your right to persuade the electorate, there is no need to close the democratic space. It is only when you are not sure of yourself that you pass repressive legislation — that is the only conclusion one can reach."

He said he was surprised when Media & Information Commission chair Tafataona Mahoso this week called for the tightening of Aippa through the control of distributors of newspapers and periodicals coming from outside the country.

"He suggested that some foreign publications be subjected to some form of scrutiny and censorship. Why is it necessary when it is said the world is now a global village?" James asked. "Is that necessary at all?"

Brief insight into Interception of Communications Bill

  • The law seeks to empower the chief of defence intelligence, the director-general of the Central Intelligence Organisation, the commissioner of police and the commissioner-general of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority to intercept: Fixed telephone lines; cellular phones; e-mail messages sent by Internet.
  • When it comes into effect the government will use the Bill to establish a telecommunications agency called the Monitoring and Interception of Communications Centre manned by spies tasked with prying into private mail.
  • State agencies will be empowered to open mail passing through the post and through licensed courier service providers.
  • The Bill authorises the Minister of Transport and Communications to issue a warrant to state functionaries to order the interception of information if there are “reasonable grounds for the minister to think that an offence has been committed or that there is a threat to safety or national security of the country”.
  • The Bill will compel operators to install software and hardware to enable them to intercept and store information as directed by the state. The service providers will also be asked to link their message monitoring equipment to the government agency. Service providers will also be compelled to keep personal information on clients and provide it to the state if asked to do so.
  • Failure by service providers to, among other issues, install the requisite software and hardware to intercept messages and transmit them to the government agency will attract a fine and/or imprisonment of up to three years.

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