GOVERNMENT has intensified its crackdown on dissenting voices, targeting individuals who criticise ruling party Zanu PF and the First Family through social media and the internet.
These revelations were made by Freedom House, an American non-governmental organisation that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom and human rights, in its annual Freedom on the Net 2015 report released this week.
The organisation said the crackdown was a reflection of government’s fears of social unrest triggered by a deepening economic crisis.
Freedom House conducted a comprehensive study of internet freedom in 65 countries around the world, primarily focusing on developments that occurred between June 2014 and May 2015, although more recent events were also included in individual country narratives.
The researchers examined laws and practices relevant to the internet, testing the accessibility of select websites, and interviewing a wide range of sources.
The report states that of the 65 countries assessed, 32 have been on a downward trajectory since June 2014 while Zimbabwe’s internet freedom was rated as partly free, together with two other southern African countries Zambia and Angola.
“Internet freedom around the world has declined for the fifth consecutive year, with more governments censoring information of public interest and placing greater demands on the private sector to take down offending content…
“… Bans on encryption and anonymity tools are becoming more common, with governments seeking access to encryption backdoors that could threaten digital security for everyone. Evidence that governments with poor human rights records are purchasing surveillance and malware technologies from Western companies like Hacking Team has fueled suspicions that these tools are being used to crack down on political dissidents,” reads part of the report.
In the past few months, government has been working frantically to consolidate its grip on cyberspace as well as its capacity to spy on citizens’ communication devices after acquiring 51% of information communication services provider, Portnet Software, through Zarnet which is wholly government-owned.
Information technology experts told the Zimbabwe Independent in September that the acquisition also allows government to implement the objectives in the draft Computer Crime and Cybercrime Bill, which is still to be presented to cabinet.
Officials say government’s desperate bid to buy Telecel through Zarnet and state-owned TelOne’s interest in activating its mobile operator’s licence are all part of a plot to eventually own and control cyberspace.
IT experts also say infrastructure sharing would make it easier for the government to operate a signals intelligence, interception, surveillance system, and content filter.
The Freedom House report states government took steps to crack down on criticism and the most notable examples was government removing the popular Facebook page of the anonymous whistleblower, Baba Jukwa, which resulted in the arrest of two individuals in Edmund Kudzayi and his brother Phillip, suspected of administering the page in July 2014.