By Phillipa Jaja1
Amnesty International has raised alarm over Zimbabwe’s recent passage of the controversial Criminal Law Codification and Reform Amendment Bill 2022, ‘Patriotic Bill’ by the Parliament, stating that the legislation represents a serious assault on human rights in the country.
The human rights organization has expressed deep concerns regarding the potential implications of this law on freedom of expression and association, urging the government to uphold its international human rights obligations.
The Patriot was initially tabled in August last year.
Critics and the opposition have denounced it as manifestly unconstitutional and an instrument meant to silence government critics and close civic space ahead of general elections set for August 23 this year.
Introduced by former Zanu PF secretary for youth affairs Pupurai Togarepi, who is now the party’s chief whip, the bill now awaits President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s assent to sign it into law anytime from now after being successfully passed by the Senate on Tuesday and sailing through the National Assembly last week.
Amnesty International criticism to the Patriotic Bill
In a statement today, Amnesty International said it violates people’s rights to freedom of expression and called for the President’s rejection of it.
“The passing of the ‘Patriotic Bill’ by the Senate is deeply concerning and signals a disturbing crackdown on Zimbabweans’ rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. The weaponization of the law is a desperate and patent move to curtail the rights to freedom of expression and to public participation in elections due in August this year.
“The Bill’s deliberately vague and overly broad provisions on damaging Zimbabwe’s interest and sovereignty, including by calling for economic sanctions, flies in the face of Zimbabwe’s international human rights obligations. All laws must be defined precisely, allowing people to know exactly which acts will make them criminally liable.
“We call upon the President to reject this bill. The government of Zimbabwe must urgently ensure that it abides by its obligations under international human rights law,” said Flavia Mwangovya, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East and Southern Africa.
Provisions of the Patriotic Bill
The Bill has provisions that seek to criminalise citizens found guilty of “wilfully damaging the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe”.
The Bill, which seeks to amend the Criminal Code, penalises Zimbabweans charged with campaigning against or “hurting the interests” of the country including having any correspondence with foreign governments.
Other penalties include revocation of citizenship, prohibition from being registered as a voter or voting in an election for a period of at least five years.
However, critics are apprehensive of the death penalty which the Amnesty International denounces as “a violation of the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment.”
“The Bill, if passed into law, could give authorities greater powers to unduly restrict human rights, and worryingly, it would allow for imposing the death penalty against those perceived as being critical of the government, including political activists, human rights defenders, journalists, civil society leaders, opposition parties, and whistle-blowers. We are deeply concerned that the Bill adds to the existing plethora of offences punishable by death in Zimbabwe,” said the international lobby body.
The Patriot Bill is among several contentious pieces of legislation introduced by Mnangagwa some of which include the Cyber Security Act, Constitutional Amendments 1 and 2, and the Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill that has been awaiting his signature since February.