By Elia Ntali
A consortium of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in the country have condemned the proposal of the Patriotic Bill saying it is an attempt aimed at silencing and shrinking the civic space.
The late ZANU-PF legislator for Mberengwa South, Alum Mpofu, moved a motion in the National Assembly for the enactment of the proposed Patriotic Bill. Mpofu indicated that he was concerned with the negative portrayal of the country’s image and reputation and motivated that as the reason for moving the motion.
“Civil society organisations in Zimbabwe strongly condemn the increasing attempts to silence and shrink the civic space through the proposal to introduce the Patriotic Bill. It is our position that the proposed Patriotic Bill serves a single purpose, which is to criminalise free speech, and ultimately control, intimidate and stifle citizens’ democratic rights and fundamental freedoms as enshrined in the Zimbabwe Constitution Chapter 4 Bill of Rights,” noted the organisations
The CSOs said the Government has on numerous occasions made unsubstantiated accusations of conspiracy between foreign governments and pro-democracy citizens.
“Amidst growing international condemnation of sustained State-sponsored human rights violations in Zimbabwe, the government has on numerous occasions, sought to shift blame by making unsubstantiated accusations of collusion between foreign governments and well-meaning citizens. It is important to note that civil society organisations in their role as watchdogs, raise alarm both domestically and internationally on human rights developments.
“Therefore, the Patriotic Bill when viewed in unison with the proposed changes to the Private Voluntary Organisations Act [Chapter 17:05] points to an apparent attempt to stifle the activities of civil society organisations, thus undermining their watchdog and agenda setting role in perpetuating national democracy, good governance, demanding accountability and independent monitoring of duty bearers.”
The organisations added “It is our position that the proposed Patriotic Bill will only serves as a weapon to punish civil society organisations and political adversaries for exercising the right to expression, particularly in relation to the state of the nation.”
Whilst they are raising concern the CSOs say there appears to be no description of what would constitute unacceptable private correspondence with foreign governments, save for what is determined by the government and in particular the ruling party.
The organisations called on the Government to among other concerns withdraw the proposed Patriotic Bill, focus on the alignment of existing laws with the Constitution, promote and uphold human rights and uphold the rule of law in Zimbabwe and independence of the judiciary.