Zimbabwe media to fight internet law

HARARE – Zimbabwe’s privately-owned media last week agreed to challenge in court a proposed new law that will empower the government to intercept and monitor internet communication.
At a meeting called by the local chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) to dis

cuss the proposed Interception of Communications Bill, journalists, media lawyers and internet service providers said they would in the meanwhile lobby parliamentarians including those from the ruling party that is sponsoring the Bill to block its passage.
But if that failed they would challenge the constitutionality of the law once it is signed into law by President Robert Mugabe.
“The proposed law is unconstitutional as it is another assault on our liberties,” said Chris Mhike, a legal practitioner who addressed the meeting on the constitutionality of the draft bill. “It is wide and vague. It is an unreasonable piece of law that should never be allowed in a democratic society,” he added.
MISA Zimbabwe official Wilbert Mandinde said the media organisations and private internet users were worried about the implications of the proposed law that will grant the state permission to intrude into private conversations between citizens.
“It is certainly a bad law that we have agreed as stakeholders to resist. We are strategising but the general consensus is to fight the law in court if it is eventually passed into law,” said Mandinde.
Under the proposed law, the state will be empowered to monitor telephone and internet communications between citizens while internet service providers will be tasked to spy on their clients and report to the police anyone caught receiving or sending out information deemed detrimental to the national interest.
The draft law, if eventually enacted, would be an addition to a raft of other laws that restrict the free flow of information in Zimbabwe while imposing severe restrictions on journalists and newspapers in the country.
James Holland, a representative of the Internet Service Providers (ISPs), said players in the industry would team up with the media and other stakeholders to fight the proposed law in court. “We should start now by lobbying ZANU PF legislators and then petition the President (Robert Mugabe). If this fails, we will seek recourse from the courts,” said Holland.
The draft internet law seeks to empower the Chief of Defence Intelligence, Director-General of the department of national security in the President’s Office, Commissioner of the Zimbabwe Republic Police and the Commissioner General of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) to intercept communications between private individuals and organisations in the country.
Zimbabwe already has some of the worst media laws in the world with, for example, journalists being liable to two-year jail terms if they are caught practising without a licence from the state’s Media and Information Commission. – ZimOnline

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