Cablegate: Repressive Electoral and Media Amendments Top

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

071450Z May 03




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: 02 HARARE 414

1. Parliament resumed on May 6, after a two-month
adjournment in which several parliamentary portfolio
committees met to discuss proposed legislation. Top among
the Bills to be debated when Parliament begins are the Access
to Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Bill and
the Electoral Amendment Bill. If proposed amendments are
passed, the bills would tighten restrictions on the
Zimbabwean people and journalists, rights of expression,
limit the campaigning ability of opposition parties, and make
the electoral process less inclusive. END SUMMARY.

2. Parliament resumed on May 6, after a two-month
adjournment. Top among the bills for debate in this final
sitting of the Third Session of the Fifth Parliament are
amendments to the Access to Information and Protection of
Privacy Amendment Bill and the Electoral Amendment Bill. The
bills were announced in the official Zimbabwe journal--the
first step in the bill making process--in October and March
2002, respectively, and are at the Parliamentary Legal
Committee (PLC) stage. The Access to Information Bill was
referred to the PLC in November and no report has yet been
issued. The Electoral Amendment Bill received an adverse

NOTE: According to the Parliamentary process, bills are fist
published (gazetted) in the government gazette at least two
weeks before they are introduced in Parliament. After
gazetting, the bill is referred to the appropriate
parliamentary portfolio committee, which assesses whether the
bill is practical and then conducts a hearing with members of
the public to get their input. Independent of the portfolio
committee, the appropriate minister makes the first reading
of the bill before the House and then the bill is referred to
the Parliamentary Legal Committee--the committee charged with
determining the constitutionality of the bill. At the second
reading stage, the minister explains the bill, the portfolio
committee presents its report, and debate on the bill
follows. After the second reading, the House goes through
the bill line by line and adopts any changes to it before it
proceeds to the third reading when Parliament passes the bill
and it goes to the Head of State for assent into law. END


3. The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act
(AIPPA) became law in March 2002. The Act places Zimbabwe's
independent journalists and media companies under government
control and restricts the operation of foreign journalists
and media in Zimbabwe. (See Reftel). Critics of the bill
contend that it contravenes the constitutional right of
freedom of expression and is meant to gag the independent
media. The Independent Journalists Association of Zimbabwe
(IJAZ) is challenging the constitutionality of AIPPA, but no
judgment has yet been rendered by the Supreme Court. IJAZ
challenges the accreditation of journalists as being
arbitrary and an impediment to journalists practicing their
craft. IJAZ also contends that AIPPA puts the journalism
profession under government control. Supreme Court Chief
Justice Chidyausiku, whose allegiance to President Robert
Mugabe is without question, is believed to be sitting on the
case. The Media Institute of Southern Africa, an NGO
dedicated to the promotion of free, independent, and
pluralistic media, is now running a &Justice delayed is
justice denied8 campaign through advertisements in the local

4. If passed, the amendments would expand the list of mass
media products under the government's control to include
electronically transmitted materials and periodically printed
publications; tighten the restrictions on foreign media
operations and limit accreditation of foreign journalists to
a 30-day period; and remove the provision for journalists and
media houses to nominate members to the Mass Media Commission

--Expanding the List of Monitored Products: The bill proposes
to extend the provisions of AIPPA to a wider segment of
society by inserting a number of new definitions. The
amendment expands the list of definitions that apply to the
whole Act by moving some that were originally applicable to
the regulation of mass media services. As written, the bill
could cover the publication of and contributors to church
magazines, bank newsletters, and web pages. The bill could
also conceivably regulate private advertisements, e-mails,
and web pages.

--Restricting Journalistic Access: The amendment limits the
time in which foreign journalists may be accredited to thirty
days. AIPPA states only that accreditation will be for a
limited time. The amendment also permits a foreign mass
media service to set up an office for twelve months.

--Removing the Journalist Nominations to MMC: The amendment
would get rid of the requirement that the association of
journalists and media houses nominate at least three of the
five to nine members on the commission. Prior to passing
AIPPA in March 2002, ZANU-PF MP and Chairman of the PLC
Eddison Zvobgo fought to include the provision that
journalists nominate at least three members.

5. The committee responsible for reviewing the AIPPA
amendments, the Portfolio Committee on Transport and
Communication, completed a report in mid-February in which
they expressed concern that the general implications of the
amendments go against the ideas of encouraging media
businesses to operate. The Committee pointed out that
accreditation denies publishers the certainty of knowing the
journalists they employ will be able to work. The Minister
of Information is given the power to determine for how long a
journalist will be in employment. The Committee also
reported that:
-Accreditation forces journalists to live in fear of
being arrested,
-The amendment stifles the smooth flow of business with
its two-year licenses for media houses,
-The $Z500,000 registration fee is excessive,
-The Media Commission should be representative of and
accountable to the profession, and
-The Commission should be independent of the politics of
the day, lest it use its power to censor journalists.
(NOTE: The Committee comprises five MDC parliamentarians
(MP), five ZANU-PF MPs, and a chief from Binga in
Matabeleland North, an overwhelmingly MDC stronghold. An MDC
MP is chairperson. END NOTE.)


6. The Electoral Amendment Bill incorporates many of the
clauses that were in the General Laws Amendment Act, passed
in January 2002, but subsequently declared invalid by the
Supreme Court just before the 2002 Presidential elections.
The Bill received an adverse report from the PLC, but it
remains to be seen how the ruling party will handle it.
(NOTE: In January 2002, the PLC issued an adverse report on
AIPPA, which resulted in Zvobgo butting heads with Jonathan
Moyo, the Minister responsible for AIPPA, and Patrick
Chinamasa, Minister of Justice. After several weeks of
Zvobgo refusing to table the report in the House, the PLC and
Chinamasa conferred for two weeks to resolve some of the
issues Zvobgo and the PLC had with the Bill. In the end, the
PLC tabled the bill and Parliament passed AIPPA. END NOTE.)

7. The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal,
and Parliamentary Affairs held a public hearing on March 13,
in which all the high level MPs on the committee and
representatives from Zimbabwe Election Support Network, the
Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC), the National
Constitutional Assembly, the Registrar-General (RG), and the
MDC election directorate were present. The Committee
comprises five MDC MPs, four ZANU-PF MPs, one ZANU-Ndonga MP,
and two chiefs. A ZANU-PF MP chairs the committee.
According to a March preliminary report on submission on the
Bill, none of the stakeholders was satisfied with the Bill as
it is currently written.

8. Some of the proposed Electoral Act changes include:

-Giving the ESC exclusive power to appoint and accredit
election monitors whom the Registrar-General must verify.
The amendment stipulates that monitors be drawn from the
public service cohort. In the past, the ESC drew monitors
from civic society organizations and did not need to furnish
the RG with proof of their appointment.

-Vesting the power to invite election observers in two
ministers, the Minister of Foreign Affairs for foreigners and
the Minister of Justice for Zimbabweans. In the past, the
ESC accredited local observers and the Election Directorate
accredited foreign observers. The Ministry of Information
decided which foreign journalists would be allowed to report
on elections. (COMMENT: This particular minister would
certainly use this clause to go against media houses and
individual journalists from the foreign media. END COMMENT.)

-Making the ESC solely responsible for voter education.
However, political parties may still provide their own voter
education programs. The amendment makes it a criminal
offense, with a penalty of $Z10,000 and/or six months
imprisonment, to provide voter education without ESC
registration or to receive foreign funds for said voter
education. Previously, there were no restrictions on civic
organizations conducting voter education and they were to
receive local and foreign funding. This clause is meant to
limit the content of voter education and the process itself.

-Restricting postal voting to members and their spouses away
on duty with the disciplined forces or government service and
officials and spouses away on election duty. In the past,
persons unable to go to polling stations because of ill
health or infirmity; residing more than 20 kilometers from
the nearest polling stations; and those who had good reason
to believe they would not be in their constituency on polling
day were allowed to vote by mail. Zimbabweans studying or
temporarily working outside the country could apply to vote
by mail.

-Allowing electoral officers to seal and open ballot boxes
and count votes even if all the monitors, observers, election
and polling agents who are entitled to be present are not.
(COMMENT: In the 2002 presidential elections, polling agents
and civil society observers were barred from observing
counting in some areas. The GOZ now seeks to legitimize this
practice. END COMMENT.)

-Making it a criminal offense to place a bill, placard,
poster, pamphlet, etc. on any house, building, wall, fence,
lamppost, gate, or elevator without the consent of the owner.
The penalty is a fine of up to $Z100,000 and/or imprisonment
for up to five years.

9. On February 14, the Citizenship of Zimbabwe Amendment Bill
was gazetted. The bill exempts persons of Southern African
Development Community parentage, who may be citizens of these
countries by descent, from compliance with the dual
citizenship prohibition and the requirement to renounce the
foreign citizenship in order to keep Zimbabwean citizenship.
The bill also stipulates that the SADC parent immigrated into
or the Zimbabwean parent emigrated out of Zimbabwe to work as
a general laborer, farm laborer, mineworker, or domestic
employee in order for the exemption to apply. COMMENT: The
Citizenship Amendment Bill appears to be a way for ZANU-PF to
try and regain the support of Zimbabweans of SADC heritage.
In its carefully worded text, the Bill deliberately excludes
white Zimbabweans from claiming citizenship without first
denouncing a GOZ-perceived allegiance to the country of
ancestry. END COMMENT.

10. On March 14, the Minister of Justice, Chinamasa,
gazetted the disbursement of money to the MDC and ZANU-PF
under the Political Parties (Finance) Act. The allocation
covers the year June 26, 2002 to June 25, 2003 and is based
upon the number of votes cast for the party's candidates in
the preceding general election (June 2000) or in
by-elections. ZANU-PF was allocated Z$127.5 million (51
percent of total votes cast) and MDC allocated Z$122.5
million (49 percent of total votes cast).

11. If the amendments to AIPPA pass, they would make the
draconian laws on journalistic freedom even more repressive.
The independent media continues to be a problem for the GOZ,
and this would provide the GOZ a way to further limit the
independent media's influence. As drafted, the amendment is
vague and open to broad interpretation. It also seeks to
frustrate the independent media and limit its ability to
appeal freely.

12. If passed, the Electoral Act Amendment Bill would block
any move towards a freer electoral environment. If the GOZ
is allowed to decide whom to invite as observers, there is
the likelihood that the system will be politically
manipulated, since the Ministers could only invite foreign
journalists and observers who are perceived to be sympathetic
to the government of the day and who will turn a blind eye to
any election irregularities. The clause about putting up
campaign posters makes it almost impossible for
electioneering materials to be posted prior to an election.
It is unreasonable and impractical to demand that the
permission of the municipality or the property owner outside
whose property the material is to be posted be given for
every posting. Given the propensity for selective application
of the law by the GOZ, ZANU-PF candidates will no doubt be
allowed to put up posters, while MDC and other opposition
posters will be met with the full might of the law. END

© Scoop Media

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