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Zimbabwe Expected to Pass More Stringent Media Laws

  • Peta Thornycroft

Journalists in Zimbabwe would face up to 20 years in prison if they violate a law expected to be passed by the country's parliament early next month. The proposed law would also apply to citizens who make statements outside the country that the state considers false.

The new law is one of many going to parliament before general elections next March.

The proposed law Crimes Against the State, is part of a larger bill that a multi-party legal
committee last week described as mostly unconstitutional.

The law would make it illegal to communicate a false statement with the intention of
inciting public disorder; adversely affecting the economic interests of Zimbabwe or
undermining the country's security forces.

It would apply to people inside the country as well as Zimbabwe citizens living abroad.

Human-rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa said Sunday the proposal is dangerous because it
does not clearly define the definition of what constitutes a false statement. She said that
definition will depend on which judge hears the case.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change legal secretary, David Coltart, said the
section relating to crimes against the state is one of the most repressive piece of legislation
this country has ever known, even under minority white rule. He said the maximum
sentence of 20 years was equivalent to a death sentence in present conditions in Zimbabwe
prisons.

One of the most outspoken critics of Zimbabwe's political and humanitarian crisis,
Archbishop Pius Ncube, head of the Catholic Church in the country's second city
Bulawayo, said the new law would try to stop people like himself from criticizing the
government. Despite the new law, he said he would continue, both inside and outside
Zimbabwe, to tell the truth about what he described as, "The evil going on."

Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa, who authored most of the recent legislation, said he
was in a meeting and would not comment on criticism of these new laws.

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