Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s “open for business” mantra is all about opening the country to Chinese and western economic exploitation while denying long-suffering citizens their constitutionally-protected rights. Mnangagwa’s post-Mugabe Zimbabwe still blacklists and criminalizes critics and journalists.
Last week, prominent Zimbabwean journalist Violet Gonda sued Registrar General Tobaiwa Mudede and now ex-Home Affairs minister Obert Mpofu in the High Court of Zimbabwe for denying her a new passport. As reported by the Daily News, the denial was based on the fact that she’s blacklisted by the Mnangagwa regime. According to the publication:
Through her lawyer, Denford Halimani of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), Gonda cited Mudede and minister of Home Affairs Obert Mpofu and first and second respondents, respectively. Gonda wants the High Court to compel Mudede and Mpofu to issue her with a Zimbabwean passport and a declaratory order declaring the blacklist unlawful.
Gonda, a freelance journalist who left Zimbabwe in 2000, worked for the now-defunct UK-based SW Radio Africa, which was critical to the Mugabe regime. She’s also worked for Voice of America’s Studio 7, which “has been providing Zimbabwe with objective, reliable and balanced radio news broadcasts since 2003 and has become a highly valued alternative point of reference on the airwaves for many thousands of Zimbabweans.”
A media freedom activist and filmmaker, Gonda returned to Zimbabwe earlier this year on a British passport after the fall of Robert Mugabe, who was deposed through a military coup last November. In Gonda’s own words, via NewZimbabwe.com:
Returning from the diaspora to invest in my homeland, I was shocked and surprised that in President E.D. Mnangagwa’s new dispensation there still exists draconian, secret provisions that block citizens from accessing passports. I am a Zimbabwean and I should not be made to feel like a foreigner in my own country, like I am having to do at present. Is Zimbabwe still in the Mugabe era? A ‘Stop List’ should not exist in ED’s new dispensation.
The right to citizenship and dual citizenship is guaranteed under Zimbabwe’s 2013 constitution. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) requires Zimbabwe to respect and promote media freedom. Under Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, Zimbabwe is required to promote the right of access to information.
The existence of a government “Stop List” nearly a year after the fall of Mugabe contradicts Mnangagwa’s claim that Zimbabwe is breaking up with the dark past in which he was a key player.
On the Violet Gonda passport saga, it’s predictable that the current administration will blame Mugabe or a Minister from his era. It’s the default response to any embarrassing issue: it’s not us, it’s someone else! But they are perfectly happy to claim credit for everything else.
— Alex T Magaisa 🇿🇼 (@Wamagaisa) September 5, 2018
MISA Zimbabwe, an organization dedicated promoting freedom of expression and access to information in Zimbabwe, condemned the Mnangagwa regime’s criminalization of Gonda:
MISA Zimbabwe condemns this latest attempt by a government to punish a journalist for carrying out her constitutionally guaranteed duties. Journalism is not a crime, and those that practice this profession should not be treated like criminals. These acts by the government are contrary to the promises and pronouncements by President Mnangagwa that Zimbabwe is breaking with its dark past. The government of Zimbabwe has a constitutional obligation to promote and protect the right to free speech and media freedom in Zimbabwe.
For most critical Zimbabweans, particularly those in the diaspora, Mnangagwa’s “new dispensation” claim remains what it has been from the beginning: hogwash.
Diaspora cyber terrorists
It’s also worth noting that Mnangagwa’s post military coup government inherited Mugabe’s dangerous Cybersecurity and Cybercrimes Bill. First introduced just over two years ago, the fallen dictator’s terror weapon targeted Internet-savvy Zimbabweans in the diaspora. It sought to criminalize and cripple them.
Since the proposed cybercrime’s introduction, several military and government officials issued strange warnings against “abusing” social media platforms and associating with so-called “diaspora cyber terrorists”. For example, Chris Mushohwe, Mugabe’s former information minister, warned Zimbabweans against associating with “disgruntled elements in the Diaspora who think their Diaspora status gives them both immunity and impunity”. Mushohwe regarded critical Zimbabweans in the diaspora as “shady characters who behave traitorously against their country and people” and worked in cahoots with “intelligence services of hostile nations”. According to Mushohwe:
Government is aware of activists in the country collaborating with the diaspora cyber terrorists. They must be warned that the long arm of the law is encircling them.
As I blogged earlier, the Mnangagwa regime is in the process of transforming the proposed Cybersecurity and Cybercrimes law into a draconian information control weapon against the open Internet, democracy, human rights, free flow of information, and privacy rights protected by Zimbabwe’s constitution. Earlier this year, Mnangagwa’s post-coup ICT minister Supa Mandiwanzira told a parliamentary committee that the proposed cybersecurity law now incorporated two more draconian Mugabe-era draft laws, the Data Protection Bill, and the Electronic Transactions and Electronic Commerce Bill. The merger will create one monstrous omnibus bill that will inflict a terrible blow on Zimbabweans’ constitutionally-protected rights.
Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based blogger, photographer, digital rights enthusiast, former political aide, and former international development administrator. He’s the founder and editor of these blogs: The Canadian Progressive, Zimbabwean Progressive, and Charity Files. Follow him on Twitter: @Obiemad
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