Zimbabwe’s government wants to bring in a new law to make it a criminal offence for citizens to hold meetings with foreign governments without state approval.
The Patriot Bill, if enacted, will impose heavy jail terms on those convicted, but critics say it will be used to silence dissent.
Top parliamentary affairs ministry official, Virginia Mabhiza, has told the state-run _Sunday Mail _that parts of the new bill have been drafted and will be presented to cabinet. She says private citizens shouldn’t be meeting with foreign governments.
Some will read that as a reference to when Tendai Biti of the MDC Alliance and Dewa Mavhinga of Human Rights Watch appeared before the US Senate’s committee on foreign relations shortly after the ouster of Robert Mugabe in 2017.
With the opposition threatened by infighting and the governing party under heavy international criticism, the MDC Alliance says the proposed new law will threaten Zimbabwe’s already-fragile democratic space.
NEW LAW TO ENFORCE PATRIOTISM TO ‘ZANU PF’ BEING CRAFTED
The ZANU PF led government is crafting a new law that will literally seek to force citizens to be loyal to ZANU PF principles.
The law will criminalise and impose stiff penalties for campaigning against the country through private correspondence with foreign governments and harming national interests.
In August, the Cabinet Committee on National Peace and Reconciliation tasked the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to draft a law that prohibits citizens from conniving with hostile foreign governments to harm the country.
Principles of the Patriot Bill have now been drafted. Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi is now expected to table the principles in Cabinet.
Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs permanent secretary Virginia Mabhiza told The Sunday Mail that the Bill draws from similar legislation in other jurisdictions such as the Logan Act in the United States of America.
She said it is solely the State’s mandate to engage other nations on issues pertaining to foreign relations. Acts that will be criminalised will include corresponding with a foreign government without approval, making false statements which harm the country and conniving with hostile foreign governments to harm the nation.
“The Bill is premised on the constitutional provision on the foreign policy of our country, which values the promotion and protection of the national interests of Zimbabwe,” she said.
“It is the duty of the State to engage other sovereign nations on issues pertaining to foreign relations, and not self-serving citizens.
“Conduct such as private correspondence with foreign governments or any officer or agent thereof will be prohibited, including false statements influencing foreign governments, or any other such conduct aimed at undermining the country.
“Private citizens will have to avoid conduct such as traveling to foreign countries as self-appointed ambassadors, meeting foreign officials to undermine the national interest.
“Conniving with hostile foreign governments and nationals to inflict harm on the country and its citizens will be criminalised.
“All the above conduct will be criminalised and in the event of a conviction, stiff penalties will be imposed.”
However, some analysts say, the problem with such a for Zimbabwe would lie into ZANU PF’s definition of patriotism.
One analyst, Elder Mabhunu says according to ZANU PF, party interests come first before national interests, therefore, whoever would not confess allegiance to the ruling party would be considered unpatriotic.
“It is common in the country that a number of people who questioned certain acts by ZANU PF have been accused of being enemies of the state.
“All because they would have objected to tow the party line,” he says.
Meanwhile, this Act is not unique, as other countries have it or anything similar. It seeks to protect citizens against collaborating with foreign countries, with intention to harm the country.
Having noted the diplomatic chaos that comes with private citizens having unauthorised negotiations with foreign governments, the US government passed the Logan Act in 1799.
It specifically prohibits citizens from negotiating with other nations on behalf of the United States without authorisation and makes it a crime for a citizen to confer with foreign governments against the interests of the United States.