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Zimbabwe's Parliament to Pass Laws Limiting Rights

Zimbabwe's parliament is considering Tuesday legislation that critics say will drastically affect freedom of the press and individual rights. The ruling party has already promised that, whatever the opposition says, the legislation will be approved.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa told parliament Tuesday that he will use the ruling ZANU (PF) party's 42-seat majority to approve the suspension of debating rules to ensure that bills on freedom of information and public order and safety bills are passed on Wednesday. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is strongly opposed to both proposals.

President Robert Mugabe is expected to sign the bills into law by the end of the week.

The information bill sets up a government-appointed licensing authority for journalists. Under the bill, all journalists have to be citizens of Zimbabwe to get a license, and any journalist caught working without a license faces up to two years in jail.

A press freedom monitoring agency, the Media Institute of Southern Africa, says the aim of the proposed press law is to destroy the independent press.

The other measure, the public order bill, bans political gatherings that are declared unlawful by the government and makes criticism of the president a political offense.

The bill allows the army to help the police to break up meetings and the authorities are given the power to kill in certain circumstance.

A Zimbabwe lobby group, Lawyers for Human Rights, says the public order bill is worse than any similar measure passed when there were white-ruled governments in South Africa and what was then Rhodesia - now Zimbabwe.