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Zimbabwe Expected to Pass More Stringent Media Laws

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.