FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
14 July 2023
The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition is deeply concerned about the passing of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill, popularly known as the 'Patriotic Act,' by the Government of Zimbabwe.
This development reflects a worrisome escalation of the use of laws to crackdown on the fundamental rights and freedoms of Zimbabweans, particularly regarding freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. Of major concern is that this is also happening a few weeks before Zimbabwe holds a crucial national election. Undoubtedly, this has every potential to further diminish the credibility of the entire electoral process.
It is surprising that at a time the Government has invited foreign observers to come and observe our electoral process, it then chooses to gag citizens from talking about the same election, including its shortcomings which are all too glaring. The determination by observer missions on their views of our elections is informed by the experiences of Zimbabwe’s citizens and institutions, both good and bad, and it is every citizen’s right to speak as they see things, not what the Government wants to be said.
Essentially, this new law is yet another threat to the ability of citizens to engage in open political discourse and to participate freely in the electoral process. This will without doubt undermine the inclusivity and fairness of the entire electoral process and ultimately compromise the overall legitimacy of the August 23 elections.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) have already noted how the law is deliberately vague and excessively broad in its definition of liable offences; it “does not define sovereignty and national interest, which could be broadly and subjectively interpreted to criminalise the lawful conduct of those expressing their freedom of expression.” Yet, clear and precise definitions of criminal acts are crucial for individuals to understand the boundaries of their legal liabilities.
Some of the penalties proposed by the law for deliberately injuring the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe - such as the death penalty, long imprisonment, loss of citizenship and banning of persons from electoral participation for five years - are too harsh and inappropriate for vaguely defined offences. In addition, the provision for the death penalty means that the new law violates section 48 of Zimbabwe’s constitution, which only allows for the death penalty in cases of murder in aggravating circumstances.
As part of its longstanding commitment, the Coalition firmly opposes the death penalty without exceptions, irrespective of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the state's chosen method of execution. The death penalty is a grave violation of the right to life as enshrined in the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
Of greater concern is the law's potential to grant authorities excessive powers to curtail human rights. It is clear that this law is just meant to curtail the rights and freedoms of those perceived to be critical of the government, including political activists, human rights defenders, journalists, civil society leaders, opposition parties, and whistleblowers.
Such actions by the Government only cements our earlier assertions as the Coalition, that the ruling elites in ZANU PF want to turn Zimbabwe into a one-party state and dictatorship. Before assenting to the two laws (Patriotic Bill and Labour Amendment Bill), President Mnangagwa had on his desk at six repressive laws which await his assent to become law - these include the Judicial Laws Amendment Bill, Prisons and Correctional Services Bill, Police Amendment Bill and the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill. all these Bills in essence are bringing new provisions that further curtail not only the rights and freedoms of Zimbabweans, but are generally meant to curtail and further shrink the civic an democratic space, and ensure Zimbabwe becomes a one party state where dissent and criticism of the ruling party is outlawed.
This however runs contrary to the promise of 1980 and an independent Zimbabwe and will surely be resisted by all genuinely “patriotic” Zimbabweans. It is the duty of every Zimbabwe to defend the constitution and clearly the passing of this ‘Patriotic Bill’ by the elites in ZANU PF is anti-developmental and is itself an act of unpatriotic behaviour.
The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition strongly urges the government of Zimbabwe to reconsider this Amendment Act and ensure that it upholds the principles of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. We call on the President to exercise restraint and take into account the concerns raised by civil society and human rights organizations.