The Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) has asked members of the
Zimbabwean Parliament to consider the constitutionality of the proposed
Interception of Communications Bill, which is set to be signed into law
in the new session, writes Torby Muturikwa.
Rashweat Mkundu, Misa Zimbabwe director says the bill is an assault on the liberties of the citizens of Zimbabwe and is "clearly" an affront to democracy.
In his submission to MPs, Mkundu said: "It is Misa-ZimbabweÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s objective view that the revised bill still falls far short of meeting the democratic benchmarks expected in a free and democratic society.
"The House of Assembly should, therefore, take into serious and objective consideration the concerns raised by citizens and the telecommunications industry during the public hearings conducted by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport and Communications on the impact of the ICB on constitutionally and universally enshrined fundamental rights and freedoms and the civil liberties of ordinary citizens including the right to free communication and privacy.
"Of particular concern are the powers bestowed on the minister who is an arm of the executive to authorise the interception of communication.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Misa-Zimbabwe notes with concern that security chiefs, all appointed by the executive, have to liaise with the minister also appointed by the executive in deciding on what individuals and/or organisations to target using this proposed law," Mkundu said.
The proposed law has shaken pro-democracy groups that have urged the government of President Robert Mugabe to drop the planned law. The Interception and Communications Bill seeks to allow intelligence and other security agents to snoop into private communications between individuals and NGOs.
"Misa-Zimbabwe believes that security agents have means and ways already in place to track, arrest and seek the prosecution of criminal elements without making every citizen a suspect subject to privacy invasion through ministerial certificates.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Misa-Zimbabwe further notes with concern the implications this law has on the development of the telecommunications industry, which as stated in the ICB would be required to install equipment and systems to monitor communications at their own costs, " said Mkundu.
The law is seen as an attempt by Mugabe to frustrate and punish journalists and NGOs whom he has repeatedly accused of working with ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œimperialistsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â to topple him.
Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Misa Zimbabwe said the media and telecommunicationsÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â industries, which are targeted by the proposed law, were struggling "as evidenced by the serious challenges being faced by mobile and fixed telephone service providers, an underdeveloped internet industry among other mediums of communication, would be further damaged and any prospects for growth doomed.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œPublic confidence in this industry will be undermined and the enjoyment of freedom of expression rights further repressed,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â Mkundu said.