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Tuesday, 16 July, 2002, 10:11 GMT 11:11 UK
Zimbabwe's controversial laws
Zimbabwe parliament
The bills propose draconian new laws
Zimbabwe's parliament has passed three out of the four controversial bills, which President Robert Mugabe's government had wanted to enact ahead of presidential elections in March.

Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act

The Act establishes a Statutory Media Commission, which requires all journalists to apply for a one-year renewable licence to be allowed to work.

Licences will only be awarded if a stringent set of requirements are met, and can be revoked at any time for those who breach a planned code of conduct.

In addition, foreign media organisations must pay a total of $13,050 per correspondent every year.

Those found guilty of any offence will face a fine of up to Z$100,000 ($1,875) or two years' imprisonment.

Widespread criticism - even from within Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party forced some minor concessions.

  • All journalists must be Zimbabwean citizens, which bars all foreign nationals from reporting in the country.
  • Foreign correspondents may be allowed to cover special events.
  • It is an offence to "spread rumours or falsehoods that cause alarm and despondency under the guise of authentic reports".
  • Journalists are barred from publishing "unauthorised" reports of cabinet deliberations and policy advice by a head of a public body, as well as information that may be harmful to the law enforcement process and national security.
  • Public bodies are also barred from releasing information that relates to intergovernmental relations or their financial or economic interests.

The Foreign Correspondents Association in Zimbabwe has appealed to the courts against the law.

The Public Order and Security Act

Constitutional lawyers have warned that the wide-ranging provisions of this bill - which give unprecedented powers to the police - are similar to apartheid-era security legislation in South Africa.

Punishment for breach of the bill ranges from the death penalty to jail terms to heavy fines.

The bill makes it illegal:

  • "To undermine the authority of the president" or "engender hostility" towards him.
  • To make abusive, obscene or false statements against the president.
  • To disturb the peace, security and order of the public, which includes public gatherings "to conduct riots, disorder or intolerance".
  • To perform acts, utter words, distribute or display any writing, sign or other visible representation that is obscene, threatening, abusive, insulting or intended to provoke a breach of peace.
  • The police are given powers to arrest anyone at a public meeting not in possession of an identity card.

Senior police officers will have powers to control and disperse public gatherings and crowds whenever they deem it reasonable to do so.

General Laws Amendment Act

Changes to the Electoral Act place significant obstacles in the way of those registering to vote.

  • In urban areas, they are required to produce passports and utility bills to prove that they have lived in their constituencies for the last 12 months.
  • In rural areas, local chiefs and village heads, seen as being pro-government, are required to vouch for anyone registering to vote.
  • Postal votes are restricted to diplomats and members of the armed forces, disenfranchising millions of students and workers living abroad.
  • Foreign and independent local monitors are barred but after much pressure, foreign observers, with fewer powers than monitors, will be allowed.
  • Election posters or pamphlets cannot be used without prior permission.

Labour Relations Amendment Bill

The bill was debated in parliament but not passed after it was called "unconstitutional". It cannot now be passed until after the election

  • The bill would make it illegal for union officials to organise strikes.
  • It would also outlaw worker demonstrations.

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See also:

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