By Ndlovu Lerato
Civil society organizations in Zimbabwe condemn the proposed patriotic bill and label it as an infringement to democratic rights and fundamental freedoms as enshrined in the Zimbabwe Constitution.
In a statement they stated that the bill 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 and will serve as a weapon to punish civil society organizations and political adversaries for exercising their rights.
They said that they viewed the patriotic bill in unison with proposed changes to the private voluntary organizations Act [Chapter 17:05] which points to an attempt to stifle the activities of civil society organizations, thus undermining their watchdog and agenda setting role in perpetuating national democracy, good governance, demanding accountability and independent monitoring of duty bearers.
“It is our position that the proposed patriotic bill will only serve as a weapon to punish civil society organizations and political adversaries for exercising the right to expression, particularly in relation to the state of the nation, this is particularly of concern to the work of human rights-related organizations, whose mandate is to observe, bring attention to and seek redress for human rights violations.
“As Heads of NGO coalitions operating in Zimbabwe, it is our consolidated view that there is no room for such a law in a democratic society and there is no 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”.
They condemned the attempts to silence and shrink the civic space stating that the bill serves only to infringe certain rights from being enjoyed and gave references to published articles and quotes that relate to the bill.
“The proposed Patriotic Bill introduction serves a single purpose, which is to criminalize 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.“
Civil society organizations in their role as watchdogs, raise alarm both domestically and internationally on human rights developments and in Zimbabwe, the government has on numerous occasions ought to shift blame by making unsubstantiated accusations of collusion between foreign governments and well-meaning citizens.
They called upon the government to: Withdraw the proposed Patriotic Bill, Focus on the alignment of existing laws with the Constitution, Promote and uphold human rights in Zimbabwe, To uphold the rule of law in Zimbabwe and independence of the judiciary.
Gvt has also been urged to undertake legislative and administrative measures to implement the recommendations of the Motlanthe Commission, To accelerate implementation of political, electoral and legislative reforms to improve democratic processes in Zimbabwe and to address the issues arising from the reports by the 2018 Election Observer Missions in anticipation of the 2023 elections.
The Patriotic Bill was proposed as a motion in the National Assembly on the 2nd March 2021 by the late , Hon Alum Mpofu, ZANU PF MP for Mberengwa South Constituency.
If put into law, the bill seeks to prohibits any Zimbabwean citizen from willfully communicate messages intended to harm the image and reputation of the country on international platforms or engaging with foreign countries with the intention of communicating messages intended to harm the country’s positive image and/or to undermine its integrity and reputation.