By Staff Reporter
The Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ) has mounted a High Court application challenging the much-criticised Criminal Law Code Amendment Bill, widely known as the “Patriotic Bill”.
The Bill was signed into law on July 14 by President Emmerson Mnangagwa sparking an uproar among civic organisations who felt it was enacted to muzzle freedom.
Among other things, the Patriotic Act criminalises any actions considered to be wilfully damaging the sovereignty and national interest of the country.
The crime will have been committed by a citizen or permanent resident of Zimbabwe who takes an active part in a meeting involving or convened by an agent of a foreign government, if the citizen or resident knows or has the reason to believe, among other things that the meeting was to consider or plan armed intervention in Zimbabwe by the foreign government or to subvert the Constitutional government.
In its application, MAZ is seeking a declaratory order emanating from the Amendment to the Criminal Code, among other things that the definition of “agents, proxies or entities” of the foreign governments, is overly broad and consequently unconstitutional.
MAZ also said “wilfully injuring the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe” is not defined with sufficient clarity, if at all, and consequently, section 22A (2) is vague and unconstitutional.
“Subverting, upsetting, overthrowing or overturning the constitutional government in Zimbabwe” is not defined with sufficient clarity, if at all, and consequently section 22A (2) is imprecise, vague and unconstitutional,” reads part of the application.
The organisation also said Section 22 A (2) is broadly worded, constituting a high potential of abuse and misuse and leading to silencing of any dissenting voices and consequently unfair, unreasonable, unnecessary and not justifiable in a democratic society based on openness, justice, human dignity, equality and freedom.
On the 23rd of December 2022 the Government of Zimbabwe published in the Government Gazette the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill (commonly referred to as the Patriotic Bill). It was passed by the lower house of the National Assembly on 31 May 2023 and sailed through Senate on 7 June 2023.
The Bill was signed into law by the President on or about the 14th of July 2023, as the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Act of 2023 also referred to as ‘the Amendment Act’.
In his founding affidavit accompanying the application, MAZ director Nigel Nyamutumbu said their contention is that both provisions purporting to foster patriotism and the penal provisions enforcing them are unconstitutional.
“On behalf of the applicants I will substantiate the challenge to the Amendment Act …Agents, proxies or entities” of the foreign government are described in section 22A (1) as “any person that the accused person knew or had grounds for believing were acting on behalf of the foreign government, or with the knowledge, approval or acquiescence of, the foreign government, or any person who it is reasonable to suppose was acting on behalf of, or with the knowledge, approval or acquiescence of, the foreign government concerned. It is not clear how this relationship with a foreign government will be proved.
“The definition of agents, proxies or entities of persons the accused person may potentially meet in violation of section 22A is too vague, too broad and too sweeping to attain the object of the statute, thereby infringing upon the accused,” he said.
“Subverting, upsetting, overthrowing or overturning the constitutional government in Zimbabwe” is not defined with sufficient clarity, if at all, and consequently section 22A (2) is imprecise, vague and unconstitutional,” reads the draft order.
Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi and the Attorney General are cited as respondents in the application.
Another interested party is Zenzele Ndebele cited as the third applicant.
The matter is yet to be set down for hearing.