‘Patriotic Bill’ a violation of human rights: Amnesty

The passing of the ‘Patriotic Bill’ by the Senate is deeply concerning and signals a disturbing crackdown on Zimbabweans’ rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, Flavia Mwangovya, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East and Southern Africa has said.

The Senate on June 7 passed the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Amendment Bill 2022, commonly referred to as the “Patriotic Bill”, which criminalises “wilfully injuring the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe”.

It was published in the Government Gazette on December 23 2022 and was passed by the lower house of the National Assembly on May 31, 2023, before being sent to the Senate.

The bill now awaits President Mnangagwa’s signature before it becomes law.

“The weaponisation of the law is a desperate and patent move to curtail the rights to freedom of expression and to public participation in elections due in August this year,” Mwangovya said in a statement, Friday.

“The Bill’s deliberately vague and overly broad provisions on damaging Zimbabwe’s interest and sovereignty, including by calling for economic sanctions, flies in the face of Zimbabwe’s international human rights obligations. All laws must be defined precisely, allowing people to know exactly which acts will make them criminally liable.”

Mwangovya said if the bill is passed into law, it could give authorities greater powers to unduly restrict human rights, and worryingly, it would allow for imposing the death penalty against those perceived as being critical of the government, including political activists, human rights defenders, journalists, civil society leaders, opposition parties, and whistle-blowers. 

“We are deeply concerned that the Bill adds to the existing plethora of offences punishable by death in Zimbabwe. We call upon the President to reject this bill. The government of Zimbabwe must urgently ensure that it abides by its obligations under international human rights law.”

The Criminal Law Codification and Reform Amendment Bill, 2022, also criminalises those who participate in meetings to promote calls for economic sanctions against the country. 

“If passed, this law would open the door to violations of the human rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Moreover, the penalties provided by the Bill range from loss of citizenship, denial of the right to vote and the death penalty,” she said.

“Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to kill the prisoner. The death penalty is a violation of the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment.”

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