The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has bemoaned the passing of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill N.B. 15, 2022, which introduces so-called patriotism provisions.
The bill, gazetted on December 23, 2022, seeks to criminalize Zimbabwean citizens and residents who engage with foreign countries in actions perceived to undermine the nation’s sovereignty, dignity, and independence.
Still awaiting presentation and debate in the Senate, the bill has already raised serious concerns.
In a statement, ZLHR said the Bill does not define ‘sovereignty’ and ‘national interest’, which could be Interpreted broadly and subjectively to criminalise the legitimate conduct of those asserting their freedom of expression.
“ZLHR is gravely concerned that the Bill penalises citizens and residents for merely attending a meeting where sanctions are considered, whether the sanctions target any individual or official or class of individuals. The vague criminalisation of meetings between Zimbabwean citizens and foreign governments Violates human rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression guaranteed in the Constitution.
“Once enacted into law, these patriotism provisions will have extraterritorial application and criminalise participation by Zimbabweans in meetings held in other countries. This will have a chilling effect of silencing Zimbabwean civil society organizations’ international advocacy efforts to promote human rights protection in Zimbabwe,” ZLHR mourned.
ZLHR highlights that some of the penalties in the Bill are clearly unconstitutional, such as the imposition of the death penalty only for murder cases involving aggravating circumstances.
“Of grave concern in the Bill are the excessive penalties for willfully injuring the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe, which include the death penalty, lengthy imprisonment, revocation of citizenship, prohibition of from being registered as a voter or voting at an election for a period of at least five years. ZLHR notes that some of the penalties are manifestly unconstitutional. The proposed provisions will result in the closure of the civic space and violate human rights at a time when Zimbabwe has committed to implement critical reforms under the Structured Dialogue on Arrears Clearance and Debt Resolution process,” said ZLHR
In light of these grave concerns, ZLHR urgently calls upon the government to withdraw the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill H.B. 15 from Parliament and halt the pending Senate process and upholding the rule of law and protecting constitutional rights must be paramount.