November 29, 2004

Zimbabwe: New Oppressive Measures

I never lack for material on Zimbabwe. I know it may not be a matter of great interest to many of my visitors (I can tell by the lack of comments), but it is of great interest to me. Mugabe, the dictator-in-chief of Zimbabwe, has introduced new legislation to curb critics by providing for jail time of up to 20 years if you "publish or communicate a falsehood".

The latest law, which comes among a rush of new Bills, ahead of elections next March, makes it an offence to publish or communicate "to any other person a statement which is wholly or materially false with the intention of realising that there is a real risk of inciting or promoting public disorder or public violence or endangering public safety or, adversely affecting the defence and economic interests of Zimbabwe: or undermining public confidence in a law enforcement agency, the Prison Service or the Defence Forces of Zimbabwe; or interfering with, disrupting or interrupting any essential service," that person "shall be guilty of publishing or communicating a false statement prejudicial to the State and liable to a fine up to or exceeding level 14 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 20 years or both."

Critics have condemned the slack phrasing of the bill. "The question of what is a falsehood will depend on which judge hears the case," said Beatrice Mtetwa, a human rights lawyer.

Mr Coltart said one clause in the new bill also makes it an offence for any citizen, either in Zimbabwe or outside the country to make an "abusive, indecent or obscene statement" about President Robert Mugabe, "even if it is a true statement", he said.

Let's be clear about how bad this law is.

David Coltart, legal secretary of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said: "The section relating to crimes against the state in this bill embodies the most fascist legislation this country has known, far worse than the most draconian laws passed by the Smith regime. The sentence of up to 20 years amounts to a death sentence in Zimbabwe's prisons."


I assume that stories like this, about children forced into prostitution, will be called "falsehoods". Put the situation into context:

Food shortages in Bulawayo have claimed the lives of more than 160 people in the past year, according to Japhet Ndabeni-Ncube, the city's mayor and a member of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

Although the government announced a "record harvest" in May and ordered the World Food Programme to stop distributing aid, a Zimbabwe parliamentary committee gave warning this month that the country would run out of food before April.

Mr Mugabe's seizures of white-owned farms have led to the collapse of a once-thriving agricultural economy. Zimbabwe used to be able to export food to drought-stricken neighbours in southern Africa. Now, the plight of its people is worsened by the spread of Aids - at least one in three of Zimbabwe's population is HIV positive. Despite the terrible risks, Linguile and hundreds of other girls who sell their bodies are prepared to have unprotected sex to make more money.

Posted by Random Penseur at November 29, 2004 09:35 AM

One of the things I really like about your blog, RP, is that you always provide me with something to be outraged about. Since I don't often have time to read the paper, I miss out on a lot of these terrible developments. So thanks for keeping me informed on a small portion of the disasters & mishaps that occur in our world!

Posted by: GrammarQueen at November 30, 2004 01:34 PM
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