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Repressive laws up for amendment

Two repressive laws, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Electoral Amendment Bill, are to come up for amendments before parliament.

If proposed amendments are passed, the bills will tighten restrictions on the Zimbabwean people and journalists, rights of expression, limit the campaigning ability of opposition parties, and make the electoral process less inclusive.

 

Full cable:

 

Viewing cable 03HARARE874, REPRESSIVE ELECTORAL AND MEDIA AMENDMENTS TOP

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Reference ID

Created

Released

Classification

Origin

03HARARE874

2003-05-07 14:50

2011-08-30 01:44

UNCLASSIFIED

Embassy Harare

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

 

071450Z May 03

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 HARARE 000874

 

SIPDIS

 

NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR J. FRAZER

LONDON FOR C. GURNEY

PARIS FOR C. NEARY

NAIROBI FOR T. PFLAUMER

 

E.O. 12958: N/A

TAGS: PGOV ZI

SUBJECT: REPRESSIVE ELECTORAL AND MEDIA AMENDMENTS TOP

PARLIAMENT AGENDA

 

REF: 02 HARARE 414

 

——-

SUMMARY

——-

1. Parliament resumed on May 6, after a two-month

adjournment in which several parliamentary portfolio

committees met to discuss proposed legislation. Top among

the Bills to be debated when Parliament begins are the Access

to Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Bill and

the Electoral Amendment Bill. If proposed amendments are

passed, the bills would tighten restrictions on the

Zimbabwean people and journalists, rights of expression,

limit the campaigning ability of opposition parties, and make

the electoral process less inclusive. END SUMMARY.

 

—————-

PARLIAMENT OPENS

—————-

2. Parliament resumed on May 6, after a two-month

adjournment. Top among the bills for debate in this final

sitting of the Third Session of the Fifth Parliament are

amendments to the Access to Information and Protection of

Privacy Amendment Bill and the Electoral Amendment Bill. The

bills were announced in the official Zimbabwe journal–the

first step in the bill making process–in October and March

2002, respectively, and are at the Parliamentary Legal

Committee (PLC) stage. The Access to Information Bill was

referred to the PLC in November and no report has yet been

issued. The Electoral Amendment Bill received an adverse

report.

 

NOTE: According to the Parliamentary process, bills are fist

published (gazetted) in the government gazette at least two

weeks before they are introduced in Parliament. After

gazetting, the bill is referred to the appropriate

parliamentary portfolio committee, which assesses whether the

bill is practical and then conducts a hearing with members of

the public to get their input. Independent of the portfolio

committee, the appropriate minister makes the first reading

of the bill before the House and then the bill is referred to

the Parliamentary Legal Committee–the committee charged with

determining the constitutionality of the bill. At the second

reading stage, the minister explains the bill, the portfolio

committee presents its report, and debate on the bill

follows. After the second reading, the House goes through

the bill line by line and adopts any changes to it before it

proceeds to the third reading when Parliament passes the bill

and it goes to the Head of State for assent into law. END

NOTE.

 

—–

AIPPA

—–

 

3. The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act

(AIPPA) became law in March 2002. The Act places Zimbabwe’s

independent journalists and media companies under government

control and restricts the operation of foreign journalists

and media in Zimbabwe. (See Reftel). Critics of the bill

contend that it contravenes the constitutional right of

freedom of expression and is meant to gag the independent

media. The Independent Journalists Association of Zimbabwe

(IJAZ) is challenging the constitutionality of AIPPA, but no

judgment has yet been rendered by the Supreme Court. IJAZ

challenges the accreditation of journalists as being

arbitrary and an impediment to journalists practicing their

craft. IJAZ also contends that AIPPA puts the journalism

profession under government control. Supreme Court Chief

Justice Chidyausiku, whose allegiance to President Robert

Mugabe is without question, is believed to be sitting on the

case. The Media Institute of Southern Africa, an NGO

dedicated to the promotion of free, independent, and

pluralistic media, is now running a &Justice delayed is

justice denied8 campaign through advertisements in the local

papers.

 

4. If passed, the amendments would expand the list of mass

media products under the government’s control to include

electronically transmitted materials and periodically printed

publications; tighten the restrictions on foreign media

operations and limit accreditation of foreign journalists to

a 30-day period; and remove the provision for journalists and

media houses to nominate members to the Mass Media Commission

(MMC).

 

–Expanding the List of Monitored Products: The bill proposes

to extend the provisions of AIPPA to a wider segment of

society by inserting a number of new definitions. The

amendment expands the list of definitions that apply to the

whole Act by moving some that were originally applicable to

the regulation of mass media services. As written, the bill

could cover the publication of and contributors to church

magazines, bank newsletters, and web pages. The bill could

also conceivably regulate private advertisements, e-mails,

and web pages.

 

–Restricting Journalistic Access: The amendment limits the

time in which foreign journalists may be accredited to thirty

days. AIPPA states only that accreditation will be for a

limited time. The amendment also permits a foreign mass

media service to set up an office for twelve months.

 

–Removing the Journalist Nominations to MMC: The amendment

would get rid of the requirement that the association of

journalists and media houses nominate at least three of the

five to nine members on the commission. Prior to passing

AIPPA in March 2002, ZANU-PF MP and Chairman of the PLC

Eddison Zvobgo fought to include the provision that

journalists nominate at least three members.

 

5. The committee responsible for reviewing the AIPPA

amendments, the Portfolio Committee on Transport and

Communication, completed a report in mid-February in which

they expressed concern that the general implications of the

amendments go against the ideas of encouraging media

businesses to operate. The Committee pointed out that

accreditation denies publishers the certainty of knowing the

journalists they employ will be able to work. The Minister

of Information is given the power to determine for how long a

journalist will be in employment. The Committee also

reported that:

-Accreditation forces journalists to live in fear of

being arrested,

-The amendment stifles the smooth flow of business with

its two-year licenses for media houses,

-The $Z500,000 registration fee is excessive,

-The Media Commission should be representative of and

accountable to the profession, and

-The Commission should be independent of the politics of

the day, lest it use its power to censor journalists.

(NOTE: The Committee comprises five MDC parliamentarians

(MP), five ZANU-PF MPs, and a chief from Binga in

Matabeleland North, an overwhelmingly MDC stronghold. An MDC

MP is chairperson. END NOTE.)

 

————————

ELECTORAL AMENDMENT BILL

————————

 

6. The Electoral Amendment Bill incorporates many of the

clauses that were in the General Laws Amendment Act, passed

in January 2002, but subsequently declared invalid by the

Supreme Court just before the 2002 Presidential elections.

The Bill received an adverse report from the PLC, but it

remains to be seen how the ruling party will handle it.

(NOTE: In January 2002, the PLC issued an adverse report on

AIPPA, which resulted in Zvobgo butting heads with Jonathan

Moyo, the Minister responsible for AIPPA, and Patrick

Chinamasa, Minister of Justice. After several weeks of

Zvobgo refusing to table the report in the House, the PLC and

Chinamasa conferred for two weeks to resolve some of the

issues Zvobgo and the PLC had with the Bill. In the end, the

PLC tabled the bill and Parliament passed AIPPA. END NOTE.)

 

7. The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal,

and Parliamentary Affairs held a public hearing on March 13,

in which all the high level MPs on the committee and

representatives from Zimbabwe Election Support Network, the

Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC), the National

Constitutional Assembly, the Registrar-General (RG), and the

MDC election directorate were present. The Committee

comprises five MDC MPs, four ZANU-PF MPs, one ZANU-Ndonga MP,

and two chiefs. A ZANU-PF MP chairs the committee.

According to a March preliminary report on submission on the

Bill, none of the stakeholders was satisfied with the Bill as

it is currently written.

 

8. Some of the proposed Electoral Act changes include:

 

-Giving the ESC exclusive power to appoint and accredit

election monitors whom the Registrar-General must verify.

The amendment stipulates that monitors be drawn from the

public service cohort. In the past, the ESC drew monitors

from civic society organizations and did not need to furnish

the RG with proof of their appointment.

 

-Vesting the power to invite election observers in two

ministers, the Minister of Foreign Affairs for foreigners and

the Minister of Justice for Zimbabweans. In the past, the

ESC accredited local observers and the Election Directorate

accredited foreign observers. The Ministry of Information

decided which foreign journalists would be allowed to report

on elections. (COMMENT: This particular minister would

certainly use this clause to go against media houses and

individual journalists from the foreign media. END COMMENT.)

 

-Making the ESC solely responsible for voter education.

However, political parties may still provide their own voter

education programs. The amendment makes it a criminal

offense, with a penalty of $Z10,000 and/or six months

imprisonment, to provide voter education without ESC

registration or to receive foreign funds for said voter

education. Previously, there were no restrictions on civic

organizations conducting voter education and they were to

receive local and foreign funding. This clause is meant to

limit the content of voter education and the process itself.

 

-Restricting postal voting to members and their spouses away

on duty with the disciplined forces or government service and

officials and spouses away on election duty. In the past,

persons unable to go to polling stations because of ill

health or infirmity; residing more than 20 kilometers from

the nearest polling stations; and those who had good reason

to believe they would not be in their constituency on polling

day were allowed to vote by mail. Zimbabweans studying or

temporarily working outside the country could apply to vote

by mail.

 

-Allowing electoral officers to seal and open ballot boxes

and count votes even if all the monitors, observers, election

and polling agents who are entitled to be present are not.

(COMMENT: In the 2002 presidential elections, polling agents

and civil society observers were barred from observing

counting in some areas. The GOZ now seeks to legitimize this

practice. END COMMENT.)

 

-Making it a criminal offense to place a bill, placard,

poster, pamphlet, etc. on any house, building, wall, fence,

lamppost, gate, or elevator without the consent of the owner.

The penalty is a fine of up to $Z100,000 and/or imprisonment

for up to five years.

 

———–

OTHER BILLS

———–

9. On February 14, the Citizenship of Zimbabwe Amendment Bill

was gazetted. The bill exempts persons of Southern African

Development Community parentage, who may be citizens of these

countries by descent, from compliance with the dual

citizenship prohibition and the requirement to renounce the

foreign citizenship in order to keep Zimbabwean citizenship.

The bill also stipulates that the SADC parent immigrated into

or the Zimbabwean parent emigrated out of Zimbabwe to work as

a general laborer, farm laborer, mineworker, or domestic

employee in order for the exemption to apply. COMMENT: The

Citizenship Amendment Bill appears to be a way for ZANU-PF to

try and regain the support of Zimbabweans of SADC heritage.

In its carefully worded text, the Bill deliberately excludes

white Zimbabweans from claiming citizenship without first

denouncing a GOZ-perceived allegiance to the country of

ancestry. END COMMENT.

 

10. On March 14, the Minister of Justice, Chinamasa,

gazetted the disbursement of money to the MDC and ZANU-PF

under the Political Parties (Finance) Act. The allocation

covers the year June 26, 2002 to June 25, 2003 and is based

upon the number of votes cast for the party’s candidates in

the preceding general election (June 2000) or in

by-elections. ZANU-PF was allocated Z$127.5 million (51

percent of total votes cast) and MDC allocated Z$122.5

million (49 percent of total votes cast).

 

——-

COMMENT

——-

11. If the amendments to AIPPA pass, they would make the

draconian laws on journalistic freedom even more repressive.

The independent media continues to be a problem for the GOZ,

and this would provide the GOZ a way to further limit the

independent media’s influence. As drafted, the amendment is

vague and open to broad interpretation. It also seeks to

frustrate the independent media and limit its ability to

appeal freely.

 

12. If passed, the Electoral Act Amendment Bill would block

any move towards a freer electoral environment. If the GOZ

is allowed to decide whom to invite as observers, there is

the likelihood that the system will be politically

manipulated, since the Ministers could only invite foreign

journalists and observers who are perceived to be sympathetic

to the government of the day and who will turn a blind eye to

any election irregularities. The clause about putting up

campaign posters makes it almost impossible for

electioneering materials to be posted prior to an election.

It is unreasonable and impractical to demand that the

permission of the municipality or the property owner outside

whose property the material is to be posted be given for

every posting. Given the propensity for selective application

of the law by the GOZ, ZANU-PF candidates will no doubt be

allowed to put up posters, while MDC and other opposition

posters will be met with the full might of the law. END

COMMENT.

SULLIVAN

(48 VIEWS)

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