HomeAnalysisGovt eroding civil liberties

Govt eroding civil liberties

If anyone ever needed evidence that Zanu PF is already rigging the 2018 election through patently insidious tactics that undermine the constitution while endangering national survival, this week’s directive by the state-controlled Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) hiking the cost of internet access will leave them in no doubt.

Zimbabwe Independent Comment

In recent months, the nation has witnessed a series of despicable manoeuvres clearly calculated to erode civil liberties and undermine a constitution which is barely four years old.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises the right to free expression as a human right.

This civil liberty includes the right to receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of one’s choice.

In the Zimbabwean context, free expression is enshrined in Section 61 of the constitution. The Zanu PF government is uncomfortable with that right and has become jittery ever since anti-government campaigners used social media to mobilise massive protests last year.

The overpricing of internet access is a scandalous subversion of the people’s democratic will. The constitution, lest we forget, was adopted through a transparent process, including a nationwide outreach programme and a legitimate referendum.

Mugabe’s regime has deliberately failed to align a raft of anti-democratic laws with the new constitution. It is an indictment on this government that more than three years after the adoption of the constitution, Zimbabwe still has on its statute books obnoxious laws such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Interception of Communications Act, the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, the Broadcasting Services Act, the Public Order and Security Act, and the Official Secrets Act. Interestingly, Jonathan Moyo, one of Zanu PF’s foremost political schemers, has denounced the hiking of internet data charges as “primitive elitism”.

Former education minister David Coltart, commenting rather wryly, says this is one of the rare occasions on which he concurs with Moyo. Moyo has gained notoriety for posturing as a know-it-all pundit on every subject under the sun, but on this particular issue he has set the cat among the pigeons by revealing the real reasons behind the government’s decision to limit the public’s access to the internet. He is, after all, the ruling party’s secretary for science and technology.

In a tweet that has gone viral, Moyo shed light on the Potraz move: “Use of overpricing, instead of technology, to curb internet access or manage social media is primitive elitism & promotes underdevelopment!”

It seems obvious that there are two salient factors to consider here: on one hand, an authoritarian government thinks it has found a powerful way of crushing popular dissent, and on the other there are companies willing to play ball while making a killing. Data tariffs have gone up 25-fold. For instance, Econet’s least expensive data package now costs $1 for 10 megabytes, up from 250 megabytes for US$1.

How on earth can anyone justify this madness?

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