SENIOR STAFF WRITER
AMID rising tensions in the country, authorities plan to fast-track the Cyber Bill which will punish those deemed to have abused social media or peddled falsehoods against the State and citizens once it becomes law.
In addition, the government will also soon introduce the Patriotic Act in Parliament — a law which it says seeks to promote patriotism among Zimbabweans.
Speaking in an interview with the Daily News yesterday, Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said the planned two pieces of legislation had become “priority bills” for authorities.
However, government critics fear that both laws will be used to clamp down on dissenting voices in the country — particularly in light of recent accusations that authorities have been guilty of gross human rights violations.
This comes after President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Thursday that Zimbabwe had come under sustained and unjustified online attacks — in an alleged bid by the State’s enemies to cause regime change in the country.
Speaking in the exclusive interview with the Daily News yesterday, Ziyambi, pictured, confirmed that the government would fast-track the passage in Parliament of the Cyber and Patriotic bills, to deal with those deemed to be delinquents.
“We have the Cyber Bill, but we have been affected by Covid-19 (in passing it). There is a need to speed up the passing of this bill which is one of our priority bills.
“What we are going to do is that when we resume sitting next week, we will see if we can cover a lot of ground on it.
We are hopeful that we can complete it before the end of October.
“People are now using foreign (cellphone) numbers to attack the government. The majority of those attacking the government use foreign numbers,” Ziyambi said.
“They know … that they are perpetuating falsehoods and we are going to deal with this soon. We just need to speed up our Cyber laws and we will be able to deal with them after passing the bills,” he said further.
According to Clause 164 of the proposed Cyber Bill, anyone found guilty of communicating false information on the country or citizens can be jailed for five years.
“Any person who unlawfully and intentionally by means of a computer or information system makes available, broadcasts or distributes data to any other person concerning an identified or identifiable person knowing it to be false with intent to cause psychological or economic harm shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding level 10 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years, or to both such fine and such imprisonment,” it reads in part.
This comes as the government recently received withering criticism from rights groups over allegations of having clamped down on critics ahead of the foiled July 31 mass protests.
However, authorities disputed the allegations saying some of the gory images that had been circulated in this regard were old pictures from the era of the late former president Robert Mugabe.
Ziyambi told the Daily News further yesterday that the circulation of such images and the peddling of falsehoods justified why the enactment of the mooted two laws was necessary.
“On the Patriotic Bill, our policy department is preparing principles of the bill and very soon we will table it in Parliament. There is also a need to speed up this bill.
“In the next legislative session, that bill will be one of the agenda. It is one of our priority bills. We embraced too much the so-called freedom of expression that is nowhere in the world.
“Here, there is too much freedom. In America they have that Patriotic Act and all those laws,” Ziyambi said.
“We are now looking at our legislation to see how we can strengthen it, so that we protect innocent citizens from undue attack from those who are unpatriotic.
“We are looking at how we can deal with this,” Ziyambi further told the Daily News.
In the United States of America, the Patriot Act — which is officially known as the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act — was developed largely as an anti-terrorism piece of legislation in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Section 314 of the Act helps law enforcement agencies to identify, disrupt and prevent terrorist acts and money laundering activities — by encouraging co-operation among law enforcement agents, regulators and financial institutions.
Ziyambi said the foiled July 31 mass demonstrations and the ZimbabweLivesMatter hashtag were all allegedly part of plans to destabilise the country.
“I think that the #ZimbabweLivesMatter campaign on social media is now losing steam. What they thought could happen, did not. They were trying to destabilise the country.
“However, our currency has stabilised, the auction system is performing well and there are no human rights abuses. There is no crisis really to talk about.
“They (demonstrators) wanted to cause anarchy, but we are a very peaceful country. Sooner, their lies will be exposed,” Ziyambi further told the Daily News.
Meanwhile, Mnangagwa said on Thursday that his administration and the country were under siege from cyber dissidents and bullies.
“The social media attack is most unjustifiable, based upon fiction, non-facts, non-truth allegations that there are gross human rights violations in the country.
“There is no evidence of such things happening. The arbitrary arrests, death, torture in the country, all that is being stated without evidence.
“We are enjoying peace and stability in the country, but our detractors have decided to impose a cyber-war on our country in pursuit of a regime change agenda,” Mnangagwa said.
This comes after the government deployed security forces around the country and thwarted the planned July 31 protests which opposition and rights groups said were meant to voice dissatisfaction with rampant public sector corruption.
Rights groups have also since claimed that dozens of opposition figures and activists were tortured and assaulted in a retributive exercise by suspected security agents after authorities foiled the demonstrations.
On its part, the government has refuted the allegations — claiming instead that the opposition is allegedly working with foreigners to destabilise the country.