The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights has added to the chorus of condemnation on Zimbabwe’s enactment of the Patriotic Act, which criminalises the act of demonizing the country and prescribes, among other sentences, death on anyone convicted for the crime.
The law, also known as Criminal Law Codification and Reform Amendment Bill, 2022, was assented to by President Emmerson Mnangagwa last week, going against a wide sentiment by civil society and opponents for him to spare the country another piece of oppressive legislation.
In a tweet on Monday, the UN High Commission for Human Rights said the law could be a tool by the current Zanu-PF government to target and weaken civil society, which has been vocal against state excesses.
“We regret that Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act has now been signed into law.
“Risks being misused to target, criminalize and weaken civil society. Open and pluralistic civic space is key for sustainable dev’t: law & policy must facilitate these objectives,” said the UN agency, led by Volker Türk.
Comments by the UN agent follow similar condemnation fired at the much-resented law by western embassies in Zimbabwe.
The Dutch Embassy Harare said it was “regrettable” that Mnangagwa went against citizen calls for him not to sign the law.
“Many Zimbabweans including legal experts and civil society groups have argued that this law is unconstitutional and will have a chilling effect on civil rights in the country. Regrettable that none of these voices were heard,” said the embassy.
The EU Delegation to Zimbabwe said, by enacting the law, Zimbabwe was regressing on its reform path.
“Zimbabwe, as a sovereign country, has committed in the Arrears Clearance process to enhancing respect for freedoms of association, assembly & expression, as well as building trust with the international community.
“Today’s legislation sends a political signal in the opposite direction,” the embassy said.
The same sentiments were expressed by the United Kingdom embassy, which said the law was a subtraction to the citizen freedoms guaranteed in the national constitution.
The embassy said last week that, “parts of today’s new legislation have serious implications for Zimbabweans’ ability to exercise those rights without fear, and for Zimbabwe Govt’s efforts at international reengagement.”
Similarly, the US embassy said the law was a violation to citizens’ “freedom of expression, assembly, and association”.
“New legislation subverts these constitutional rights, undercuts Zimbabwe’s international reengagement efforts, and is bad for business,” said the embassy.
Global rights lobby, Amnesty International has called on Mnangagwa to reverse his controversial decision to operationalise the law.