Civil society groups raise alarm over Patriotic bill

By Tafadzwa Mupfururirwa
HARARE – Civil society organisations in Zimbabwe have raised concerns over the proposed Patriotic Bill stating that it is a slap on the face of democracy which will shrink the civic space.
CSOs hold the position that the proposed Bill serves a single purpose, which is to criminalise free speech, and ultimately control, intimidate and stifle citizens’ democratic rights and fundamental freedoms as enshrined in the Zimbabwe Constitution’s Chapter 4 Bill of Rights.
The Patriotic Bill was first proposed by Zimbabwe’s Cabinet Committee on National Peace and Reconciliation. The Cabinet Committee tasked the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.
Government says that the Bill is necessary to deal with citizens who propagate negative information to foreign governments, which undermine the Government of Zimbabwe’s efforts to attract foreign direct investment.
Acts that will be criminalised will include corresponding with a foreign government without approval, making false statements that harm the country and conniving with hostile foreign governments to harm the nation.
Civil Society Groups which include the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Media Alliance of Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions have called for the dumping of such a bill which will be used as a weapon to punishing citizens while infringing on their rights.
“It is important to note that civil society organisations in their role as watchdogs, raise alarm both domestically and internationally on human rights developments.”
“It is our position that the proposed Patriotic Bill will only serve as a weapon to punish civil society organisations and political adversaries for exercising the right to expression, particularly in relation to the state of the nation”
“As the Heads of NGO Coalitions operating in Zimbabwe, our considered view is that the general and sweeping nature of the proposed Bill is a cause for concern as it appears that it would apply to any citizen, civil society organisation and political opponent/party.,” said the organisations.
The civic society added that , “ It does not appear to be a delineation of what would constitute unacceptable private correspondence with foreign governments, save for what is determined by the government and in particular the ruling party.”
“This is particularly of concern to the work of human rights-related organisations, whose mandate is to observe, bring attention to and seek redress for human rights violations.”
On the 4th of August 2020, Information Minister, Monica Mutsvangwa, in her reading of the 27th Post Cabinet Press Briefing, highlighted that the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC), in its 2018 and 2019 annual reports proposed the introduction of the Patriotic Bill.On the 4th of October 2020, The Sunday Mail published an article in which it was reported that principles of the proposed Patriotic Bill aimed at criminalising private correspondence with foreign governments to the detriment of the national interests, had been drafted, and were soon to be tabled before Cabinet for consideration for legal enactment.
On the 2nd of March 2021, the late ZANU-PF legislator for Mberengwa South, Alum Mpofu, moved a motion in the National Assembly for the enactment of the proposed Patriotic Bill.
Mpofu indicated that he was concerned with the negative portrayal of the country’s image and reputation and motivated that as the reason for moving the motion.

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