Calls for sweeping electoral reforms

HARARE - Zimbabwe has a lot of pending legislative reforms before holding free and fair elections, with a leading legal watchdog calling for wide-sweeping amendments to various statutes which stifle freedom of assembly and debate.

Legal and Parliamentary watchdog, Veritas, said it was imperative that the Electoral Act together with the Public Order and Security Act (Posa), Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa), Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, Interception of Communications Act, Censorship and Entertainments Control Act were amended if next year’s elections are to be free, fair and peaceful.

“The general legal environment in which an election is held is equally important.  Even if voters are able to vote for whoever they wish on Election Day, their choices will not be freely made if, for example, some candidates have been prevented from holding meetings or presenting their policies to the electorate,” Veritas said.

Posa regulates the holding of public meetings and gatherings, and in previous elections its provisions have been used to stop opposition parties from holding rallies and informing the electorate about their policies.

The Aippa is notorious for stifling the growth of a free press and for its “chilling effect” on news media.

Veritas called for the Act to be repealed or at least amended to allow all journalists to practise their profession freely in Zimbabwe.

As for the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, “some of the provisions of this Act, too, have a chilling effect on free speech,” Veritas said.

“Section 31, which criminalises making false statements prejudicial to the State, is over-broad.  It must be reduced in scope.

“Section 33, which makes it a crime to insult the President, should either be repealed entirely or be amended so as to reduce its scope. An executive President is a politician and, especially when he is a candidate for election, should be open to the same criticism and satire, whether fair or unfair, as all other politicians.”

Turning to the Interception of Communications Act, Veritas said there are no independent safeguards to prevent the government’s powers under the Act from being used for partisan purposes.

The Act allows the government to intercept communications, both electronic and postal.

“Interception warrants are issued by a minister, and there is no judicial or independent monitoring of their issue or of the interception activities conducted under their authority.

“If warrants are to be issued at all, they should be issued by a court or at least by an independent judicial officer…In the absence of proper safeguards, the fear of governmental surveillance under the Act inhibits free political intercourse.”

The Censorship and Entertainment Control Act hinders freedom of expression, Veritas said, adding that several legislation should be enacted to improve the electoral environment.

These include the Independent Complaints Mechanism for Security Services, Codes of Conduct for Public Officers, Prevention of Electoral Violence: the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission.

“If the Acts listed above were amended in the ways we have suggested, and if the new legislation we have suggested were enacted, the electoral environment would certainly improve,” Veritas said.

“Time is running out, however, and action should be taken immediately if we are to have the free, fair and peaceful elections that are mandated by the Constitution.”

Comments (1)

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g40 - 14 October 2017

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