Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has approved a proposed law that seeks to punish ‘unpatriotic” citizens as the 80-year-old ruler moves to silence critics and entrench his rule.
Soonafter winning the disputed 2018 elections, President Mnangagwa promised a law that will punish Zimbabweans who lobby for sanctions against the country.
The government said the proposed law, to be known as the Patriotic Act, would be modelled along United States’ Logan Act. The Logan Act is a federal law that criminalises negotiation by unauthorised American citizens with foreign governments that have a dispute with the United States. The Act is meant to prevent unauthorised negotiations from undermining the US government’s position.
Only two people have ever been indicted on charges of violating the Logan Act and none of them were convicted.
Undermining national interests
Zimbabwe’s Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa told journalists in Harare on Tuesday that the cabinet had approved a Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill, 2022 targeting those deemed as undermining the country’s national interests.
“Cabinet considered and approved the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill, 2022, which was presented by the minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Honourable Ziyambi Ziyambi, as chairman of the cabinet committee on legislation,” Ms Mutsvangwa told journalists during a media briefing.
“The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Amendment Bill, 2022, enhances the provisions of the Criminal Law Code in matters relating to the country’s sovereignty through the criminalisation of conduct that undermines Zimbabwe’s sovereignty, dignity, independence and national interests.
“The Bill also provides for a mandatory sentence in rape and murder cases.
“In addition, it expands the definition of dangerous drugs and also amends the elements which form the crime of abuse of public office.”
President Mnangagwa’s ruling Zanu PF has been threatening to criminalise conduct it deems as unpatriotic, including calling for sanctions.
Freedom of expression
Critics say the proposed law is part of a sustained attack on the freedom of expression by the Zimbabwean ruler who took over power in 2017 following a military coup that toppled long-time ruler, the late Robert Mugabe.
As he returned from a brief exile in South Africa after the coup, Mnangagwa, a long-time lieutenant of the late Mugabe, promised a new kind of democracy under his rule. But he has been accused of being a worse autocrat than his predecessor.
Former Finance minister and now deputy leader of the Citizens Coalition for Change Tendai Biti described the proposed law as “fascist and unconstitutional”.
“The so-called Patriotic Bill is no more than a predatory instrument to proscribe alternative views and values,” Mr Biti said.
“Every true Zimbabwean will protect his or her country, but also has right to protect [it against] injustice and abuse. We reject this unconstitutional, desperate, fascist law.”
Early this year, President Mnangagwa’s government also approved a proposed law that seeks to restrict civil society organisations from receiving foreign funding.
It accuses the civil society groups of being conduits of money from foreign governments to finance opposition parties in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe has been under western sanctions for over two decades over alleged human rights violations and electoral fraud.