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Mugabe signs draconian law
June 23, 2005

Zimbabwean journalists now risk spending 20 years in jail following the signing into law by President Robert Mugabe of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Bill which introduces stiffer penalties against the publication of falsehoods.

The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Bill Chapter 9:23 which was passed by Parliament at the end of last year, was gazetted on 2 June 2005 after the President assented to it.

The date it comes into force is still to be published by Statutory Instrument.

The Act, introduces harsher penalties than those provided for under the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).

A journalist convicted of contravening Section 31(a) of the Act will be jailed for a period not exceeding 20 years or to a fine of up to Z$2,5 million or to both fine and imprisonment.

Under Section 15 of POSA, which is similar to Section 31of the Codification Act, one is liable to a five-year jail term or alternatively a fined $100 000 or both imprisonment and fine.

Section 31(a) of the Act which is almost regurgitation of Section 15 of POSA, makes it an offence for anyone inside or outside Zimbabwe to publish or communicate to any other person a statement which is wholly or materially false with the intention or realising that there is real risk or a possibility of any of the following:

(i) Inciting or promoting public disorder or public violence or endangering public safety.

(ii) Adversely affecting the defence or economic interests of Zimbabwe.

(iii) Undermining public confidence in a law enforcement agency, the Prison Service or the Defence Forces of Zimbabwe.

(iv) Interfering with, disrupting or interrupting any essential service.

An offence will still have been committed even if the publication or communication does not result in any of the envisaged scenarios.

Section 31(b) of the Act deals with issues extracted from Section 80 of AIPPA.

The Section deals with issues that have to do with publishing or communicating falsehoods.

Under AIPPA, once convicted, one is liable to two years imprisonment or a Z$400 000 fine.

In terms of the Codification Act a convict under Section 31 (b) is now liable to a 20-year jail term or Z$2,5 million.

Meanwhile, Section 33 of the Codification is similar in all respects to Section 16 of POSA.

It deals with “undermining the authority of or insulting the President”.

This section was taken from Section 46 of the repealed Law and Order Maintenance Act (LOMA) which preceded POSA.

It prohibits the making, publicly and intentionally, of any false statement (including an act or gesture) about or concerning the President or Acting President if the person knows or realises that there is a risk or possibility of engendering feelings of hostility towards or causing hatred, contempt or ridicule of him, whether in his official or personal capacity.

It is also an offence to make an abusive, indecent, obscene or false statement about the President, also in his official or personal capacity.

POSA imposes a fine of Z$20,000 or a one year jail term or to both fine and imprisonment. The Codification Act raises the fine to Z$200 000 while the prison term remains the same.

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