State’s Abuse of Freedom of Expression Promoting Hate Speech – Rights Expert

THE state’s continued disregard of freedom of expression and other basic rights is promoting the use of hate speech in online and offline platforms, a human rights expert, Tony Reeler has said.

Reeler, who is the National Transitional Justice Working Group (NTJWG) Thematic Leader on Institutional Reform chairperson, told this week that limited freedom for citizens to express themselves was frustrating and pushing them to make use of anonymous accounts in a bid to share views they feel strongly about.

He was speaking ahead of NTJWG’s annual lecture to be held on December 8.

Reeler, a respected academic, said Zimbabwe is finding itself on a slippery path that could endanger chances of the country in developing into a healthy democracy.

“Freedom of speech is very important. If people feel their ability to speak their mind, criticise constructively is constrained, if that criticism is punished in some way, then they will be frustrated and begin to take different avenues.

“A considerable amount of this is what is happening in Zimbabwe. The Afrobarometer has done surveys since 1999 on this and always the higher percentage of people interviewed in Zimbabwe say they are very careful of what they say in public,” he added.

The NTJWG is a platform established in 2014 by various non-state Zimbabwean transitional justice stakeholders to influence official transitional justice processes in the country. Its purpose is to facilitate consensus among transitional justice actors on appropriate principles and processes for Zimbabwe.

Reeler highlighted suppressing freedom of expression was an unhealthy situation and the result was citizens were using anonymous accounts and monikers to express their views.

“That is a slippery slope to express your views. The more anonymous the speech becomes, the higher the danger of hate speech.

“A healthy society and good democracy will have robust discussions in which people criticise views not the person.”

The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has represented a number of ordinary citizens across the country for sharing “dissenting” views on President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his administration.

The state has also been on overdrive arresting civic society, opposition figures, and journalists deemed “anti-establishment.”

Reeler said Zimbabwe’s polarisation along racial, tribal and political lines was a fertile ground for the already increasing cases of hate speech.

“I think the use of hate speech is increasing. It has become more normalised over the years to use hate speech, not just in Zimbabwe but across the world and social media is culpable in this instance.

Reeler told there was no need for the promulgation of a new law to deal with issues of hate speech as the country’s Constitution was clear on the boundaries that have to be respected for one to exercise freedom of expression.

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