Zimbabwe has a terrible record when it comes to media freedoms. One of the areas where people expressed relief with the presidency of Emmerson Mnangagwa has been a seeming expansion of the media space and the government’s seeming disinterest in quieting disagreeing views whether in mainstream media or on social media.
The past few days, however, has shown a different colour to this leaf. Social media has been blocked since Tuesday in fear of protests that were ongoing from Monday to Wednesday this week. Worse, there has been a total blackout of the internet for a continuous 30 some hours and another continuous 15 hours at least. This at the direction of the government.
The legality of these actions is before the courts as we speak. The government is citing the Interception of Communications Act Chapter 11:20 as the law that gives them authority to make such directives but we argued that this piece of law does not say that and the bit that could be interpreted as such is too vague, generic and infringes on the constitution and cannot possibly be upheld by the courts.
MISA Zimbabwe, a media activist group agrees with us and they have taken this matter to court.
A new law coming
Yesterday the minister of information, publicity and broadcasting services Monica Mutsvangwa was speaking at the Zimbabwe Defense College and she mentioned that the government was ready to bring a bill (law in waiting) that regulates social media before parliament.
The bill which they are calling a cybersecurity bill will, of course, include some measure to enable the defence of the nation in cyberspace against hackers for example. The minister emphasised however that the bill will regulate social media and the spread of information. She called it the ‘proliferation’ of information.
Developing countries should mitigate the negative effects of social information proliferation by creating laws that regulate social media usage, entrenching accountability and sanctions for offenders
According to Mutsvangwa, this bill has already passed the cabinet legal committee.
What happened this week shows the tone of this law
The events of this week prove that this government cannot be trusted with such a law. The rush to switch off the internet shows that they see the technology as a nuisance that threatens them politically and they are prepared to get rid of it at whatever cost.
If they are prepared to turn off the whole internet without regard for services that depend on the internet like buying a box of critical medicine for one’s dying relative then they care nothing about you communicating with your loved ones cheaply over WhatsApp.
Monica Mutsvangwa even talked about surveillance:
This calls for continuous virtual information flow monitoring…
The bill will sail through
The ruling party has two-thirds of the parliament so if they really want their cybersecurity law then they are going to get it without much hindrance except for procedural bottlenecks.
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