afrol News, 21 November - The government of Zimbabwe has approved the Public order and Security Bill, to replace the Law and Order Maintenance Act (LOMA). "The new Bill, however, has draconian provisions that would curtail the operations of the media and free flow of information," according to the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA).
According to a report in "The Herald" of November 21, the Public orders and Security Bill is meant to deal with acts of terrorism, treason, banditry, sabotage, insurgency, and subversion.
The Bill says that the publishing or communication of false statements, prejudicial to the state, or that incite public disorder, violence, affects the defence and economic interests of the country, or undermines public confidence in security forces or disrupting or interfering with an essential service, is an offence. Those found guilty will be fined up to Z$ 100,000 (US$ 1,876 at the official rate) or jailed for five years or both.
The Bill also makes it an offence to undermine the authority of the President by making public statements or publishing in the print and electronic media statements that engender hostility towards the President.
It is also a crime to make abusive, obscene or false statements against the President. Those convicted of these offences face a fine of up to Z$ 20,000 (US$ 375 at the official rate) or imprisonment not exceeding one year. Under the Bill, it is an illegal to disturb the peace, security and order of the public and invasion of the rights of other people.
The Bill also makes public gatherings to conduct riots, disorder or intolerance illegal. Performing acts, uttering of words, distribution or display of any writing, sign or other visible representation that is obscene, threatening, abusive, insulting or intended to provoke a breach of peace is illegal.
Senior police officer will be the regulatory authorities of the Bill when it becomes law and will have powers to control public gatherings and crowds whenever it reasonable to do so.
The Bill comes at a time when the government is drafting another media Bill, the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Bill. The two Bills are largely seen impacting negatively on the operations of the media. Most of the restrictive provisions mentioned above are not qualified and mostly generalised.
According to MISA researcher Zoe Titus, the Public order and Security Bill will further "gag media" in Zimbabwe. The Southern Africa media watchdog in several alerts has warned about the new media legislation in the country. The "draconian" media regulations were recently underlined by the arrest of the editor of Zimbabwe's leading private newspaper, 'The Daily News' - which is threatened to have its license withdrawn.