Zimbabwe approves law to punish ‘unpatriotic’ citizens in war on sanctions

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa. The US has said his administration is unwilling to improve its relations with the international community and end the country’s isolation.

Photo credit: AFP

Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has approved a proposed law that will punish ‘unpatriotic” citizens as the 80-year-old ruler moves to silence critics and entrench his reign.

President Mnangagwa promised a law that will punish Zimbabweans who lobby for sanctions against the country soon after winning the disputed 2018 elections. It will be known as the Patriotic Act.

The government said the proposed law would be modelled on the States’ Logan Act in United States.

Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa told journalists in Harare on Tuesday that the cabinet had approved the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill 2022 targeting those deemed as undermining Zimbabwe’s national interest.

The cabinet approved the bill presented by justice, legal and parliamentary affairs minister Ziyambi Ziyambi, Ms Mutsvangwa told a post-cabinet media briefing.

“The [bill] enhances the provisions of the criminal law code in matters relating to the country’s sovereignty through the criminalisation of conduct that undermines Zimbabwe’s sovereignty, dignity, independence and national interests,” she said.

“The bill also provides for a mandatory sentence in rape and murder cases.

“In addition, it expands the definition of dangerous drugs and also amends the elements which form the crime of abuse of public office.”

President Mnangagwa’s ruling Zanu PF has been making threats to criminalise conduct it deems as unpatriotic, including calling for sanctions.

Military coup

Critics say the proposed law is part of a sustained attack on freedom of expression by the Zimbabwean ruler, who took over power in 2017 following a military coup that toppled longtime ruler Robert Mugabe.

After returning from brief exile in South Africa after the coup, the former vice-president and longtime lieutenant of the late Robert Mugabe promised a new kind of democracy under his rule, but critics say he is a worse autocrat than his predecessor.

Tendai Biti, a former finance minister and now deputy leader of the Citizens Coalition for Change, described the proposed law as “fascist and unconstitutional”.

“The so-called Patriotic Bill is no more than a predatory instrument to proscribe alternative views and values,” Mr Biti said.

“Every true Zimbabwe will protect her country, but also has right to protect injustice and abuse.

“We reject this unconstitutional, desperate fascist law.”

The government has defended the proposed law, drawing comparisons with the US’ Logan Act, which criminalises negotiation by unauthorised citizens with foreign governments that have disputes with Washington.

Only two people have ever been indicted on charges of violating the Logan Act and none of them was convicted.

President Mnangagwa’s government early this year also approved a proposed law that seeks to restrict civil society organisations from receiving foreign funding.

It accuses the groups of being conduits of money from foreign governments to finance opposition parties in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe has been under Western sanctions for over two decades over alleged human rights violations and electoral fraud.

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