Harare. The Zimbabwean cabinet, led by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, has approved tough new laws that will criminalise protests.
The proposed amendments to the Criminal Law (Codification Reform) Act will also make it a criminal offence for Zimbabweans to "cooperate with foreign governments" or allege abductions.
"The amendments will criminalise the conduct of isolated citizens or groups, who for self gain cooperate or connive with hostile foreign governments to inflict suffering on Zimbabwean citizens and to cause damage to national interests," Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said.
"Other actions that will become punishable include planned and timed protests deliberately designed to coincide with major international, continental or regional events or visits. There are also unsubstantiated claims of abductions that are concocted to tarnish the image of government and the amendments will criminalise such conduct," she added.
State under pressure
President Mnangagwa's government, which is under pressure from western governments to end abductions and torture of its critics, early this month said it was crafting a law to punish citizens that communicate with foreign governments and 'harm national interests.'
The amendments appear to be a climbdown from the proposed Patriot Bill, which the government said it was drafting.
It said the proposed law would be modelled along the United States' Logan Act.
The government wanted to criminalise corresponding with a foreign government without approval, making false statements which harm the country and conniving with hostile foreign governments to damage the country’s interests.
Zimbabwe was condemned by the United Nations and the African Union after security forces brutally clamped down on protests against corruption on July 31.
An investigative journalist, Hopewell Chin’ono, who exposed a corruption scandal where the president’s family was implicated was arrested, while opposition leader Jacob Ngarivhume was arrested for organising the protests.
Several civil society and opposition activists were allegedly abducted by suspected state security agents while others were arrested for taking part in the protests that were thwarted by the military.
Trying to shake off sanctions
For years, the ruling Zanu PF has accused the opposition of campaigning for Western sanctions against Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe has been under targeted sanctions from the US and other western countries for nearly two decades for allegedly rigging elections and violating human rights.
Since taking over from long serving strongman Robert Mugabe in a military coup in 2017, President Mnangagwa has been pushing for re-engagement with the international community.
The 77 year-old ruler, however, has little to show for his efforts as western countries continue to shun his government citing lack of reforms.
Recently, the ruling Zanu PF threatened to throw out US Ambassador to Zimbabwe Brian Nichols for allegedly working with the opposition to forment chaos.