Freedom of expression under attack in Zim

The following is the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe chapter’s statement to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) agenda item no. 8 on the right to freedom of expression in Zimbabwe presented at the 66th Ordinary Session of the ACHPR presented by Misa-Zimbabwe national director Tabani Moyo.

The right to freedom of expression continues to be under attack in Zimbabwe. Of particular concern are the following violations:

Attacks on the media and safety of journalists: Misa-Zimbabwe makes this submission as the country witnesses an upsurge in the number of journalists being attacked, harassed, intimidated, assaulted and detained. As we speak, journalist Hopewell Chin’ono is in detention for daring to perform his journalistic duties. Since the beginning of the lockdown on April 1, 2020, to date, we have recorded 24 violations involving the police and uniformed forces.

Attempts to mutilate the constitution: Instead of aligning the media and expression laws to the constitution, the Harare administration is in the process of sponsoring a crusade of amendments through the Constitution Amendment No. 2 Bill, which proposes to amend the Constitution in 27 provisions. This will put the constitutional alignment process into disarray.

Façade of liberalisation of the airwaves: Zimbabwe has advertised for the application for private television; community radios and campus radio licences. The fees set for community radio broadcasting are steep (US$2 000) in the context of statutory application procedures alone. The Broadcasting Services Amendment Bill outlaws’ donations for the establishment of community radios and limits foreign direct investment to 20%. Given the capital-intensive nature of the industry and the exorbitant licensing fees, the elite with their deep pockets will most likely continue dominating the industry.

It is Misa-Zimbabwe’s well-considered view that it is literally impossible, in our current economic environment, to raise investment capital for broadcasting without stimulus support from the investment markets. Presently, the broadcasting industry is owned and controlled by the ruling elite at national and provincial commercial levels. It is therefore very likely that the very same voices already dominating the industry, are going to diversify into the television services industry while the rest of prospective broadcasters are crippled by the law from accessing foreign direct investment in addition to the exorbitant fees. Hence the justification and attempts by the government to license its own community radios.

Undemocratic governance of the internet: Zimbabwe is in the process of law-making for the regulation of cybersecurity and data protection which entrenches mass surveillance of citizens. It consolidates a securocratic approach towards internet governance as opposed to a pro-human rights approach in the regulation of the internet as provided for by the revised ACHPR Declaration of Freedom of Expression and Access to information. The Bill is a threat to the right to privacy as outlined under Section 57 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

Unfinished business of law reform: The enactment of the Freedom of Information Act, with its challenges and shortfalls, gives an impression that the archaic (Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa), has been repealed. There are still two outstanding Bills that deal with regulation and privacy that are still to be concluded. The Broadcasting Services Amendment Bill in its current state violates all the ACHPR instruments and protocols as set benchmarks.

A holistic approach towards law reforms: outside the current target laws, there are a myriad of laws that are in violation of the Constitution of Zimbabwe which include, but are not limited to: Interception of Communications Act; Censorship and Entertainment Controls Act; Official Secrets Act; Criminal Law (Codification and Reforms) Act; and a horde of statutory instruments, among others.

Misa-Zimbabwe remains open to constructive engagement with the government. We, however, urge the ACHPR to encourage the Government of Zimbabwe to:
l Take all measures necessary to guarantee the safety and security of journalists;

l Take a stand on the quality of law reforms and liberalisation of broadcasting that are guided by regional best practices; and l Ensure that the cybersecurity regulation is informed by the revised principles of the ACHPR Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information which recognises the internet as a right.

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