Zimbabwe's anti-terrorism bill threatens freedom, says Justice and Peace director

The passage of three new laws which are awaiting assent from President Robert Mugabe will effectively place Zimbabwe in a state of "undeclared martial law", according to a Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace director.

According a journalist in Zimbabwe writing under a pseudonym for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, President Robert Mugabe set to approve laws that critics say are calculated to cripple opposition to the veteran leader's 26-year-rule and muzzle criticism over the government economic performance.

The laws include provisions for the Government to spy on private email and telephone messages, to the jam private radio stations broadcasting to Zimbabwe, and to restrict civic and opposition groups by branding anti-government protests as "terrorism," the Institute reports.

According to the Institute's report, Alois Chaumba, the national director of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, said the three new bills expected to be pushed through when parliament resumes in August is the government's attempt to curb growing opposition to Mugabe's rule spawned by Zimbabwe's worsening economic hardships.

"It would seem there is a state of siege from the way the state apparatus is being used to deny people their freedoms," said Mr Chaumba.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa has tabled the three laws - the Interception of Communications Bill, the Suppression of Foreign and International Terrorism Bill and the Non-governmental Organisations Bill - all of which which now await President Mugabe's assent.

The draft terrorism law defines mercenary activity as "an act aimed at overthrowing a government or undermining the constitutional order, sovereignty or territorial integrity of a state, or private military-related assistance in an armed conflict between two or more states or within a state".

Paralleling Australia's debate over its own anti-terrorism laws, analysts say Zimbabwe's terrorism bill could be used by the Government to jail critics, including journalists working for foreign media.

Brian Raftopoulos, a senior lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe's Institute of Development Studies, said the legislative package is clearly designed to consolidate President Mugabe's grip on power. "It is meant to create the impression that the government is watching its opponents and that it is aware of every move they make," he said. "This represents a movement towards some kind of new fascism."

Critics say the new laws are part of a renewed government crackdown, which also includes tough policing and political intimidation, designed to outlaw criticism and entrench President Mugabe's rule in the face of the growing swell of opposition to his "draconian" policies.

Bills Put Zimbabwe Under "Martial Law" (Institute for War and Peace Reporting 27/7/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Zimbabwe (Wikipedia)

Zimbabwe archbishop "will not be silenced" (CathNews 22/12/05)
Bishops denounce Zimbabwe "clean-up" (CathNews 20/6/05)

28 Jul 2006