20 February 1998


Public order and security bill withdrawn

Incident details

legal action

(MISA/IFEX) - The Zimbabwean government has withdrawn the Public Order and
Security Bill, which sought to replace the controversial Law and Order
(Maintenance) Act. According to the 19 February edition of the state-owned
daily "The Herald", the Bill, which received widespread opposition locally
and internationally, was withdrawn by the Minister of Home Affairs, Dumiso
Dabengwa. The Bill was first presented to the House in 1996 and was, at the
time of the withdrawal, before a Parliamentary Committee.

**Updates IFEX alert dated 13 November 1997**

The Minister says that the Bill has undergone too much "panel beating" and
could therefore not be brought to the House in its present state. Members of
Parliament did not object to the withdrawal.
Margaret Dongo, independent member of parliament and one of the main
opponents of the Bill, told MISA-Zimbabwe on 20 February that she believed
pressure from the civil society contributed to the Ministry's decision to
withdraw the Bill.

On 10 October 1997 a group of civic groups, led by ZIMRIGHTS, met in Harare
to discuss the Public Order and Security Bill, which they found heavily
flawed in terms of human rights protection. The meeting produced a fact
sheet which was distributed to most members of Parliament.

Background Information

Civil and human rights groups in Zimbabwe objected to the retention of at
least six clauses in the revised Public Order and Security Bill. The six
clauses had direct infringements on freedoms of assembly and association,
movement, and freedom of expression. The Bill, which was first tabled before
the House in July 1997, would, once passed, have replaced the notorious Law
and Order (Maintenance) Act of 1960.

Comparatively the new bill had dropped most of the acrimonious clauses from
the previous law it seeks to repeal. At least seven harsh sections were
removed. Notable changes included: Section 18 which gave powers to the state
to ban any publication and Section 24 which made civic activities, including
lobbying the public to boycott government events or engage in civil
disobedience, punishable by life imprisonment. The old law also gave police
powers to tamper with all postal mail, and holding public gatherings on
Christmas day could have earned one five years in jail.

Zimbabwe's civil society acknowledged the changes as an encouraging attempt
by the government of Zimbabwe to improve the observation of human rights in
the country, but argued that the new bill still fell short of adequately
promoting fundamental human rights.

The six objectionable clauses in the new bill included clause 14: 5; 16,
which required all Zimbabweans to give a mandatory seven-day notice to the
police before exercising their right to assembly. The police would then have
discretionary powers to approve or block the assembly on grounds of public
security. The civil society argued that the right to assembly would be
meaningless as long as it remains at the discretion of a police officer.
They said seven days was too long a notice period to allow citizens respond
to urgent issues. Under this law a magistrate of a court was also to have
sweeping powers to ban all forms of assembly in designated areas should the
court deem it appropriate.

Clause 16 gave a police officer of the rank of Inspector powers to impose
curfews and restrict public movement outside approved hours. The officer was
not obliged to give reasons or prior warning of any impending curfew.

In clause 12 the new bill made it a criminal offense for any individual or
media to utter, publish or distribute news deemed by the state to be
subversive. It did not however define what would constitute a subversive
statement. In should be noted, however, that in the previous law the
definition of a subversive statement included harsh criticism of the
President. Persons found in contravention of this clause would be fined up
to US$2, 500 or sentenced to five years imprisonment, or both.

Zimbabwe has several equally oppressive colonial laws that needed to be
repealed, such as the Censorship and Entertainment's Control Act, the
Official Secrets Act, the Privileges, Immunities and Powers of Parliament
Act and the Preservation of Constitutional Act. The civil society argued
that there was no need for a new law to add to these, and the Public Order
Act was therefore largely irrelevant.


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