New security bill may restrict independent press, state paper reports

New York, November 28, 2001—In a November 21 article, the state-owned Herald newspaper reported that the Zimbabwean government had drafted a Public Order and Security Bill intended to replace the harsh Law and Order Maintenance Act of 1960.

The bill is expected to reach Parliament by the end of the year.

Ostensibly meant to cover acts of terrorism, treason, banditry, sabotage, insurgency, and subversion, the new legislation imposes a fine of up to Z$100,000 (US$1,876), five years imprisonment, or both for making statements deemed “prejudicial to the state.”

Those convicted of making statements likely to create “hostility toward the president” face a fine of up to Z$20,000 (US$375) or imprisonment not exceeding one year, according to the Herald article.

Despite repeated requests, the government has not made the draft bill available to the public.

“The public and the press, which will be directly affected by this legislation, should be invited to comment on the bill before it is debated in Parliament,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We object to the secretive and arbitrary manner in which the Zimbabwean government is handling legislation that, according to press reports, poses a grave threat to Zimbabwean journalists.”

The new bill seems designed to stifle press criticism of the Mugabe regime in advance of next year’s elections. The government’s increasing hostility toward the media was most recently illustrated when officials accused six journalists based in Zimbabwe of participating in “terrorist” activities.

On November 23, the Herald quoted an unnamed official as saying, “It is now an open secret that these reporters are not only distorting the facts but are assisting terrorists who stand accused in our courts of law of abduction, torture and murder by covering up and misrepresenting the brutal deeds of the terrorists.”

Four of the accused journalists are foreign correspondents: Jan Raath of the London Times, Peta Thornycroft of The Daily Telegraph, Andrew Meldrum of The Guardian, and Angus Shaw of The Associated Press.

The government also named two local journalists: Basildon Peta, special projects editor of Zimbabwe’s Financial Gazette and correspondent for the Independent of London and The Star of Johannesburg, and Dumisani Muleya, reporter for the Zimbabwe Independent and correspondent for South Africa’s Business Day.

Meanwhile, the AP quoted State Department spokesman Richard Boucher as saying that Zimbabwean authorities had recently denied visa requests from correspondents of The New York Times and The Washington Post.