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Zimbabwe to Implement Repressive Laws - 2001-12-19

The Zimbabwe government is rushing through parliament two laws the critics say will severely limit political and journalistic freedoms. Parliamentary rules have been suspended to allow the laws to be passed by the end of the week.

The speaker of the Zimbabwe parliament, former government minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, ordered that debate on the proposed laws could continue indefinitely, beyond the usual time for the close of parliamentary discussion.

Information minister Jonathan Moyo told a news briefing earlier Wednesday that the government wanted the laws passed within 24 hours.

Once parliamentary approval is given, President Robert Mugabe has to sign the laws for them to come into force.

Political and legal analysts say the proposed laws are among the most repressive of any country in the world.

Zimbabwe's Public Order and Safety Bill - one of the measures under consideration - bans political gatherings that are declared unlawful by the government.

According to the bill, criticism of the president will be a criminal offense.

The army will be allowed to help the police in banning and breaking up meetings and the authorities are given the power to kill in certain circumstances. The bill also says that persons found guilty of being terrorists face long prison terms and even the death penalty.

Tawonda Hondora, chairman of a Zimbabwe lobby group, Lawyers for Human Rights, describes the law as being worse than any passed by previous white-ruled governments in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Another measure being considered in the Zimbabwe parliament is the Access to Information Bill. It sets up a licensing authority for journalists. It says that all journalists working in Zimbabwe have to be citizens and can only work if they have recognized local journalistic educational qualifications.

Journalists face up to two years in jail for breaking the regulations.

Zimbabwe's national union of journalists strongly opposes the proposed law and says it is worse than any similar law passed by the former Taleban rulers in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, President Mugabe is in Libya to see President Muammar Gadafi. Zimbabwe state media says the main reason for the visit is to negotiate new oil supplies from Libya.