UN updated on Zim's artistic freedom

HARARE - Bulawayo-based Nhimbe Trust together with Demark based Freemuse last month participated at the UPR pre-session in Geneva, Switzerland, hosted by the Geneva-based NGO UPR-info as part of Nhimbe’s UN Human Rights Commission lobby effort to improve artistic freedom in Zimbabwe.

Nhimbe Trust Executive Director Josh Nyapimbi, Freemuse’s Executive Director Ole Reitov and Magnus Ag, Senior Programme Officer for Freemuse, participated at the UPR pre-session.

The pre-session was an opportunity for representatives of civil society to speak directly to UN Member State delegations in Geneva to share information about the human rights situation in Zimbabwe, and suggest specific recommendations to be made during the just ended review this week on November 2.

In March 2015, Nhimbe Trust, along with Freemuse, submitted a joint stakeholder report on artistic freedom in Zimbabwe as part of the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process.

Nhimbe Trust and Freemuse jointly held several lobby meetings with selected national UN missions, namely Norway, Canada, USA and officials from the UN Human Rights Commission, to help ensure that issues around artistic freedom and freedom of expression are more broadly addressed during Zimbabwe’s review.

Nhimbe Trust and Freemuse lobby meetings explored the following recommendations regarding the Censorship Act and the Computer Crime and Cyber Crime Bill’s Effect on Artistic Freedom:

1. In accordance with international standards and respecting the 2013 constitution, Zimbabwe should abolish the Censorship Act and any prior-censorship bodies or systems where they exist and use subsequent imposition of restrictions only when permitted under article 19 (3) and 20 of ICCPR. Such restrictions should be imposed exclusively by a court of law.

2. Replace the Censorship Board and other bodies censoring or regulating artistic expressions with a classification board mandated to issue age recommendations to protect children.

3. Repeal section 31 (criminalizes the publishing of, or communicating, false statements prejudicial to the State), section 33 (criminalizes insulting the office of the president) and section 96 (criminal defamation) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.

4. Reconstitute the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) with new appointees taking oath of office in line with public leadership and governance principles in chapter 9 of the constitution. The independence of the new BAZ board must be guaranteed and respected to eliminate, as far as possible, executive interference on political grounds.

5. Improve efforts to issue licences to community radio stations as these small broadcasters have substantial influence on the exercise of freedom of artistic expression by granting local artists access to showcase talents. BAZ must decrease the fees for licences to ease the financial burden to applicants for community broadcasting services. The exorbitant fees required are perceived as a deliberate move to prevent new entrants into the sector.

6. Repeal or significantly reform the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act and the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) provisions that restrict freedoms of expression and assembly as proposed by the United States, Australia, Canada, Austria and Mexico during Zimbabwe’s 2011 UPR. 

7. Take measures, including training of national and local police, to ensure the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act and the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) are not abused by the police to limit artistic freedom of expression in violation of the 2013 constitution and Zimbabwe’s international obligations.

8. Revisions to many of the definitions in the Computer Crime and Cyber Crime Bill should be considered to increase specificity and remove vagueness and ambiguity. Further, new or additional definitions should be considered especially for terms that are likely to cause confusion such as sexually explicit conduct, computer crimes, cybercrimes, a thing, device, among others.

9. The ministry responsible for this Bill should also be compelled in terms of the Bill to provide regular reports on the law's use to an all-party parliamentary committee on the application of the Bill and the cases under investigation.

10.Zimbabwe’s criminal law is now codified in the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (Code) and section 162-168 provides for computer related crimes and offences. These provisions will require reconciling with the proposed Bill which Bill should be consistent with the provisions of the Constitution.

11.There are several other laws, such as the Interception of Communications Act (ICA), the Postal and Telecommunications Act, the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act (CPEA), Criminal Matters (Mutual Assistance) Act and Extradition Act, which are likely to be affected by provisions of the proposed Bill. There is therefore need for a holistic review of the laws and their relations to avoid absurdities in law that could be easily avoided such as on basic definition or interpretation of terms, penalty provisions, authorities and enforcement mechanisms.

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