Nation under threat of ‘Martial Law’

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe is consolidating his grip on Zimbabwe through new laws that analysts say are calculated to cripple opposition to the veteran leader's 26-year-rule and muzzle criticism over the imploding economy.
A report by the UK-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting says

Mugabe’s multi-pronged strategy to silence dissent includes attempts to spy on private email and telephone messages, the jamming of private radio stations broadcasting to Zimbabwe, and restricting civic and opposition groups by branding legitimate resistance to his rule “terrorism”.
Alois Chaumba, the national director of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, said three new bills expected to be pushed through when Parliament resumes in August will effectively put the country under undeclared martial rule, as Mugabe seeks to curb growing opposition to his 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 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 now await Mugabe’s assent.
Brian Raftopoulos, a senior lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe’s Institute of Development Studies, said the legislative package is clearly designed to consolidate 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.”
The Interception of Communications Bill, published on June 9, will give Mugabe’s government unfettered authority to monitor phones and emails sent from both land- and internet-based addresses. Mugabe claims the bill is meant to protect national security and fight crime.
“This is a well-calculated move to crush any dissenting views,” said constitutional law expert Lovemore Madhuku, who chairs the National Constitutional Assembly, a broad alliance of civic groups agitating for constitutional reform. “It is a challenge to all the forces fighting for democracy in Zimbabwe. This should not be seen in isolation. It is a broad-based move to keep opponents in check. One can actually call it intimidation, at best.”
The Suppression of Foreign and International Terrorism Bill, which has already sailed past its first reading in Parliament, is another proposed law in a cocktail of legal instruments that analysts say would further curtail most basic freedoms. The law will see those convicted of working to overthrow Mugabe jailed for life.
With his new package of legislation, Mugabe also intends to curtail activities of civic society. The bill on non-government organisations, NGOs, seeks to repeal the Private Voluntary Organisations Act and give the government broad powers to close down groups considered to be critical of its policies by imposing restrictive registration formalities. – Catholic Information Service for Africa

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