SALC is alarmed by the passing of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Amendment Bill, also known as the “Patriotic Bill”, by the lower house of Zimbabwe’s parliament, which comes months before Zimbabwe’s elections on 23 August 2023. The suggested amendment by the Government aims to silence its citizens, civil society and political opposition in order to maintain the status quo.
The current version of the bill introduces section 22A to the Criminal Law Act, under which it criminalises “willfully injuring the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe”. Section 22A criminalises any meeting or any communication between a Zimbabwean citizen or permanent resident that involves or is facilitated by a foreign government or any of its agents with the aim of “subverting, upsetting, overthrowing or overturning the constitutional government in Zimbabwe”.
The criminalisation of any communication constitutes an immediate threat to the constitutional right to freedom of expression. The vague and broad wording of the suggested provision is further appalling as it constitutes a high potential of abuse and misuse by state authorities to silence any dissent or criticism of state authorities.
Melusi Simelane, SALC’s Civic Rights Cluster Lead, highlights in this context:
“Constructive exchange and criticism are the oxygen of any living democracy. Tactics of censorship and the threat of disproportional and arbitrary sentences to silence anyone that thinks about questioning decisions by the state are characteristics of an oppressive authoritarian regime.”
It is disturbing that the suggested offence constitutes a threat to constitutionally protected rights such as the right to freedom of expression as well as basic principles of a democratic society. Under the cloak of sovereignty, dignity and independence of the nation, the Zimbabwean state introduces tactics of oppression to control any critique before it has been formulated.
SALC calls on the Government of Zimbabwe and law-making bodies in the country to stop any further process of the suggested new section 22A to the Criminal Law Act. As the bill still has to be passed by the Senate and then signed into law, there is still time to stop such an amendment to the normative framework that obviously constitutes a violation of constitutional rights and provisions. Passing this law will affect any Zimbabwean inside and outside the country and ultimately result in the collapse of the democratic system in the country.
On 20 July 2023, SALC’s deputy director, Tambudzai Gonese was interviewed by Radio Islam International on how the patriotic bill is a threat to democracy and the future of Zimbabwe.