Sunday, June 23, 2024

Zimbabwe: Amnesty International to Zimbabwe Leader – Don't Sign 'Patriotic Act' Into Law

Harare, Zimbabwe — Amnesty International on Friday called on Zimbabwe’s president not to sign into law the so-called “Patriotic Act” that lawmakers approved this week.

The government says the proposed law, which would authorize penalties against people found guilty of damaging Zimbabwe’s sovereignty and national interests, is justified and must be enacted. Critics say the law will curb freedom of expression during the August elections.

Amnesty International urged President Emmerson Mnangagwa not to sign the measure, known officially as the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Amendment Bill 2022.

The bill, if made law, would authorize jail terms of up 20 years against those found guilty of “willfully injuring the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe.”

It would also allow the death penalty for a person found to have advocated for international sanctions that harm the country or its people.

Amnesty said the proposed law would effectively give authorities greater power to unduly restrict human rights and silence those perceived as being critical of the government, such as political activists, human rights defenders, journalists, civil society leaders, opposition parties and whistle-blowers.

Lucia Masuka, Amnesty’s executive director in Zimbabwe, said her organization was deeply concerned by this week’s passing of the bill by the Senate.

“The weaponization of the law is a desperate and patent move to curtail the rights to freedom of expression and to public participation in elections due in August this year,” she said. “The bill’s deliberately vague and overly broad provisions on damaging Zimbabwe’s interest and sovereignty, including by calling for economic sanctions, flies in the face of Zimbabwe’s international human rights obligations. All laws must be defined precisely, allowing people to know exactly which acts will make them criminally liable.”

But Ziyambi Ziyambi, Zimbabwe’s justice minister, said the proposed law would target only citizens who plan on harming the nation with the help of foreigners.

“The provision says this: If you go and meet a foreign government or an agent of a foreign government, and [the intention of the meeting] is to ensure that particular country imposes a trade embargo on Zimbabwe or sanctions, and you fully participate and you urge them to do that, knowing fully well that your action will injure the sovereignty of the country, you are guilty of an offense,” Ziyambi said. “Are you saying it is good?”

He added that even if the measure was enacted, Zimbabweans would still be allowed to say anything and even criticize Mnangagwa.

“The law has nothing to do with Mnangagwa,” Ziyambi said. “You can insult him as long as you do not infringe on existing laws; you won’t be arrested. We are saying we can disagree, but not to the extent of advocating for the generality of the population to suffer.”

Musa Kika, a constitutional lawyer who heads the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, said enactment of the legislation would be unfortunate.

“The government has committed itself to certain governance reforms in light of arrears and debt clearance process,” Kika said. “Under governance there are issues to do with constitutionalism and civic space, et cetera. This kind of law takes back or takes away whatever commitments it has made in that process. This is an unconstitutional law – it infringes on all sorts of civil and political rights that the constitution gives.”

He added that the bill could be struck off Zimbabwe’s statutes if challenged in court.