Cyber Crime Bill will affect artists

HARARE - Since the emergence of the digital era Zimbabweans artists – musicians, filmmakers, actors, sculptors and painters - have embraced the internet as a tool to improve how they make, market, and sell their creative works.

The artists are also now gainfully using the internet to build community with fans and fellow artists, and pursue new commercial activity.

While artists are still fast warming up to digital as they now run their own Web sites, promote, advertise, post and sell their music/sculptures/videos/films online, hence bypassing traditional distribution outlets, the introduction of the proposed Computer Crime and Cyber Crime Bill will curtail much of their operational freedom.

The Bill has already attracted a lot of criticism from the public because of its clauses that would empower the state to seize communication devices and act against any suspected misuse of any online platform including social media.

The Bill’s drafting has also raised eyebrows as it comes against a background of incessant protests in Zimbabwe and increased utilisation and access to social media platforms by citizens sharing information on the declining socio-economic and political situation in the country.

The implications of the Bill are that human rights defenders, whistle blowers, journalists, bloggers and ordinary citizens would be arrested for sharing or possessing simple information that the government determines in its own terms as uncomplimentary while corruption, human rights abuses and abuse of power will go largely unchecked.

The fear has been fuelled by recent media warnings issued by government and senior security officials against cyber terrorism and terrorists.

Against this background, protests by artists have been witnessed in recent months with Rooftop Promotions holding artistic evening events to reflect on the political, social and economic developments in the country through a bi-monthly showcase titled State of the Nation.

Another one-man play by activist and actor Silvanos Mudzvova titled Missing Diamonds: I want my share centres around the comment by President Robert Mugabe which said $15 billion in diamond money had gone missing.

While such hard hitting artistic showcases as in State of the Nation and Missing Diamonds: I want my share cannot be screened on state television ZBC-TV because government deems it politically incorrect, it can be marketed through various online avenues, hence heading into a collision with state authorities who would want to use a Bill such as the Computer Crime and Cyber Crime Bill to arrest all those distributing and manufacturing it.

This means having the video of the banned play Super Patriots and Morons in one’s computer will get one arrested. The play was banned by the Censorship Board as they used an entertainment control law passed by the Rhodesian government in 1967 to ban it, proving the power of the play’s proclamation against failed leadership.

Similarly music deemed politically incorrect and a danger to government can also suffer under the same Bill as marketing it online would be deemed criminal by the state.

Protest musicians will also be affected as most whose music songs/videos have been deemed politically incorrect, ‘dangerous’ and meant to incite violence, hence black listed or banned from state controlled media cannot be heard/showed online. Posting such material would be dealt with harshly through the Bill.

This means ordinary Zimbabweans could be arrested for sending or listening online to several of Thomas Mapfumo’s songs which are ‘blacklisted’ and so are critical songs by Hosea Chipanga, Raymond Majongwe and Leonard Zhakata among others.

If the Bill sails through, artists like Owen Maseko who produced the controversial and banned exhibition on Gukurahundi massacres cannot publish his works online as he will face jail sentence as stipulated by sections in the Computer Crime and Cyber Crime Bill.

While there is truly a pressing need to curb cyber criminality, overall, the Bill, as it stands, is so overbroad and will greatly violate civil liberties and undermine democracy and efforts to secure government accountability.

(Nyapimbi is executive director of Nhimbe Trust)

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