- Proposed new legislation in Zimbabwe could see journalists jailed for up to 20 years for publishing "false" information. The Criminal Law Bill that is currently before Parliament includes even heavier sanctions against press offences in a country that is already known for its draconic press law.
The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Bill currently before Parliament imposes up to 20 years' imprisonment, heavy fines, or both for publishing "false" information deemed prejudicial against the state.
A paragraph in the bill would make it an offence to publish or communicate "to any other person a statement which is wholly or materially false with the intention or realising that that there is a real risk of inciting or promoting public disorder or public violence or endangering public safety; or adversely affecting the defence and economic interests of Zimbabwe; or undermining public confidence in a law enforcement agency, the Prison Service or the Defence Forces of Zimbabwe; or interfering with, disrupting or interrupting any essential service."
The proposed law comes on top of the already draconian Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and the Access to Information and Public Privacy Act (AIPPA), which was last month strengthened to impose a jail sentence of up to two years for any journalist caught working without accreditation from the government-controlled media commission.
Dozens of Zimbabwean journalists have already been detained and harassed under AIPPA and POSA since these laws were introduced in 2002, while AIPPA has been used to shutter Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper, the 'Daily News'.
These moves to tighten already restrictive legislation come in the run-up to general elections scheduled for March 2005. Consequently, local and international press freedom and human rights organisations have expressed their outrage over the newly proposed legislation.
In a letter to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) yesterday protested the government's "continued clampdown on independent media in Zimbabwe," including the proposed new legislation.
- At a time when several other African countries are lifting criminal sanctions for press offences, bringing their laws in line with international standards, Zimbabwe's government is preparing to introduce penalties that are among the harshest on the continent, the letter to President Mugabe said.
As well as intimidating journalists, CPJ sources say the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Bill could be used to intimidate their sources. They fear that the law's language could also be used broadly against Zimbabweans who communicate with news outlets and other organisations based abroad.
The letter further reminded President Mugabe of Zimbabwe's commitment to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) principles and guidelines governing democratic elections, which include safeguarding freedom of expression and access to the media.
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