The Cyber Security and Data Protection Bill, which is government’s response to global technological upheavals, has been described as gravely flawed and an illustration of the Zanu PF administration’s insincerity in protecting fundamental rights.
The Bill has gone through public hearings, but is yet to be debated in Parliament.
Legal experts say it is a deeply flawed and defective piece of legislation widely seen as a political instrument by the ruling Zanu PF government to persecute dissenting voices.
Among other contentious provisions of the law is its failure to guarantee the protection of whistleblowers, which pales in comparison to efforts in neighbouring South Africa in the protection of the same.
This is despite Zimbabwe being among countries where corruption is entrenched and institutionalised.
The government has, through the Home Affairs ministry, desperately tried to market the narrative that the Bill seeks to protect citizens from cyber bullying, when in fact they are under attack from the same government that is supposed to be the custodians of the people.
Chris Mhike, a lawyer, who specialises in media and human rights law, said there was a sinister agenda behind the Bill.
“The pervasive nature of computers, information communication technology, and other internet-based modes of communication in the modern world make the promulgation of cyber security laws imperative,” he said.
“Regrettably though, Zimbabwe’s Cyber Security and Data Protection Bill is gravely flawed, in numerous ways. The shortcomings of that proposed law generally boil down to the government’s lack of sincerity as far as the protection of fundamental rights is concerned.”
The lawyer said the conduct of the State towards citizens in general and journalists in particular betrayed a sinister agenda behind the Bill.
He said the harassment and brutality opposition politicians and journalists had been subjected to demonstrated the government was more concerned with power retention at the expense of civil liberties.
“Although the Bill states, in its memorandum, that it is designed ‘to consolidate cyber-related offences and provide for data protection with due regard to the Declaration of Rights under the Constitution and the public and national interests,’ in reality the contents of that draft law, and the conduct of the State towards citizens in general and journalists in particular in recent days, betray a sinister motive behind the introduction of the Bill,” Mhike said.
“From the various deficits of the Bill vis-à-vis the Bill of Rights, as read with the brutality with which opposition politicians and journalists have been treated lately, the State appears to be more concerned about power retention, at the expense of civil liberties. The public, whose rights-related interests are poorly protected in the Bill, has been short-changed. Freedom of expression is the most prominent casualty of the Bill, and of the State’s lamentable recent repressive conduct.”
Mhike said the arrest and persecution of journalist Hopewell Chin’ono on charges of promoting public violence ahead of the July 31 protests against corruption in government, signalled the degeneration of political and human rights situation in the country.
“The arrest of Hopewell and his continued detention over allegations that are under normal circumstances light enough to warrant free bail, is a distinct illustration of the degeneration of the political and human rights situation in this country, from the deplorable levels of the (late former leader Robert) Mugabe-era, to an even more fiendish scale during this so-called second republic,” he said.
“Journalism is not a crime, and free expression by any citizen is an enshrined right. The persecution of critical journalists in this difficult season of the nation’s history, coupled with the tabling of highly defective legislation such as the Cyber Security and Data Protection Bill are harbingers to the nation’s further descent into murky waters.”
Human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa said the Bill sought to take away more of the citizens rights under the guise of State security.
“Obviously, this Bill is meant to take away more of our rights under the guise of State security. The same way they are doing with COVID-19 lockdown regulations,” she said.
Opposition party Transform Zimbabwe leader Jacob Ngarivhume was also arrested last week for organising the July 31 demonstrations and was remanded in custody to August 14.