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Living in a police state

ENERGY minister Elton Mangoma was held by police for three hours on Wednesday and later released on charges of insulting President Robert Mugabe over statements he made at a rally several months ago.

It is alleged Mangoma, who is also MDC-T treasurer, shouted “Mugabe chifa, Mugabe chibva (Mugabe die, Mugabe go)” during the rally. Wishing people dead is morally wrong, but certainly not a hanging offence.

Mangoma is by no means the only person who has been arrested over charges of insulting or ridiculing Mugabe. Many people have been picked up over similar allegations, including for waving, signalling and joking about the president in a manner authorities and police consider objectionable.

Some have simply been assaulted by security details. Even lawyers have not been spared. Harrison Nkomo was once arrested under Section 33 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act for making “dangerous public utterances likely to cause disaffection” against Mugabe.

Nkomo had allegedly said: “My friend can you go and tell your father (Mugabe) that he must go because he has failed to run this country. Tell him we have suffered enough in this country.”

This, police strangely claimed, was likely to demean his office as head of state.

Repressive pieces of legislation usually used to silence Mugabe’s critics include the Public Order and Security Act (Posa), Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa), General Laws Amendment Act and the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act as they criminalise making utterances that may “engender feelings of hostility or cause hate, ridicule or contempt towards the head of state or his office”.

Criminal defamation is one of several relics of colonial laws still being used to stifle debate and criticism of public officials. The arrest of Mangoma and citizens as well as journalists, over and above relentless political seizures and detentions of ordinary Zimbabweans all over the place, is unacceptable.

First, such arrests confirm Zimbabwe is a police state. Second, they stifle free flow of information and ideas, the lifeblood of any democracy. Without free flow of information and criticism there can be no viable or sustainable democracy.

Since 1980, Zimbabweans have endured all sorts of horrors at the hands of security forces. This clearly shows Zimbabwe is a police state.

The arrest of Mangoma and others shows freedom of expression remains endangered in Zimbabwe. Freedom of expression, including press freedom, plays a critical role in fostering democracy and respect for human rights. Put differently, it is the cornerstone upon which the very existence of a democratic society rests.

If Zimbabwe is to develop as a free, democratic and prosperous society, it is important for people to express themselves without fear and undue restrictions. Police must not play a political role in society — being used as an instrument of terror and repression.

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