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New Zimbabwe Law Adds to Dangers for LGBTQI+ People

A sad day for Zimbabwe’ as Mnangagwa SIGNS draconian law to silence critics, with death penalty

It was hoped that when long term dictator Robert Mugabe fell, his successor Emmerson Mnangagwa would be a reformer and a positive enforcer for democracy in the country. Those of us who were skeptics, were right! Zimbabwe’s President Mnangagwa on Friday signed into law the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Amendment Bill, commonly referred to as the Patriotic Bill, which punishes Zimbabweans for “willfully injuring the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe.”

This law imposes penalties on citizens who portray a negative image of the country. The broad new law will curtail citizens’ freedom of expression.

This law is a dangerous and extreme attack on freedom of speech and expression.

The enactment of the new law, which has been described by critics as “draconian”, comes only a few weeks before the country holds general elections that some observers say have already been undermined by politically motivated violence and an uneven playing field. This just a month before the country heads to the polls on 23 August, with political pundits saying the new statute would be used to target government critics and human rights defenders, will seal Mnangagwa as a follow up dictator to Mugabe.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights spokesperson, Kumbirai Mafunda, described the latest move by President Mnangagwa as a “sad day for democracy” in Zimbabwe: “We are saddened that Zimbabwe is taking a route that is retrogressive in terms of hampering citizens from exercising their rights. It’s a sad day for Zimbabwe; it’s a sad day for democracy. We are quite taken aback by a government that had made promises that it will enhance or make people enjoy their rights. We are seeing this happening towards an election and this shows that the government does not want any constructive criticism and constructive advice,” Mafunda said. (DAILY MAVERICK)

Amnesty International, criticized the enactment of the new law saying it was an impediment to the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms enshrined in the country’s constitution: “It is deeply concerning and signals a disturbing crackdown on Zimbabweans’ rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. The weaponization of the law is a desperate and patent move to curtail the rights to freedom of expression and to public participation in elections due in August,” said Flavia Mangovya, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for East and southern Africa. Mangovya said it was worrying that the new law “would also give authorities greater powers to unduly restrict human rights adding that it would allow for imposing the death penalty against those perceived as being critical of the government, including political activists, human rights defenders, journalists, civil society leaders opposition parties and whistleblowers.”

You don’t legislate patriotism; patriotism is something that comes from a sense of pride, a sense of dignity, a sense of belonging.

Nelson Chamisa, leader of the main opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) party, described the enactment of the new law as a desperate attempt by the Mnangagwa administration to justify its omissions and commissions: “You don’t legislate patriotism; patriotism is something that comes from a sense of pride, a sense of dignity, a sense of belonging. It’s not done by putting a piece of legislation,” said Chamisa.

Government says law is ‘necessary’

According to Mnangagwa’s government, it was concerned by Zimbabweans who were collaborating with foreign forces to impose sanctions on the country; therefore it was necessary to enact this law.

Zanu-PF spokesperson Christopher Mutsvangwa was not immediately available for comment ,but a senior party activist Peter Tangi told Daily Maverick that the law was necessary.

“This all started when some Zimbabwean citizens called for sanctions from America, Britain and other countries in the West. Every country has its own principles and we will not allow Zimbabweans who call for punitive measures … on Zimbabwe to allow the West to effect regime change in our country,” Tangi said.

Melanie Nathan, ED of African Human rights Coalition, Country Conditions Expert Witness for LGBTQI+ People from 20 African countries, including Zimbabwe:

How does this impact LGBTQI+ Zimbabweans: The Criminal Law Codification and Reform Amendment Bill, 2022, criminalizes anyone caught “willfully injuring the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe”. This could have a dramatic impact on LGBTQI+ human rights defenders, community and allies, and all who seek international interventions regarding the criminalization of SOGIESC. While the intention of the Act may be to curb political opposition, its broader implication must be noted, with all its possibilities. Any broad legislation that fails in definition or clarity carries the danger of widest interpretations.

In 2006, during the Mugabe era, the Zimbabwean Government made it a criminal offense for two people of the same sex to hold hands, hug, or kiss. The “sexual deviancy” law was one of 15 additions to Zimbabwe’s Criminal Code passed in Parliament in 2006: The sections involving gays and lesbians were part of an overhaul of the sodomy laws. Until then laws against sodomy were limited to sexual activity. The revised law states that sodomy is any "act involving contact between two males that would be regarded by a reasonable person as an indecent act."

Notably the laws which specifically criminalize male same-sex conduct are used not only to arrest and convict people, but also as the backdrop to justify ALL anti-LGBTI sentiment, ostracizing and violence, presuming all within the LGBTI+ minority to be criminal. Regardless of its specific terms, police are known to use threat of arrest under the codes to blackmail and extort individuals who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender or perceived as such.

The Patriotic Bill prohibits and criminalizes Zimbabweans’ communications with foreign governments or officials when that information may “harm the country’s positive image and/or … integrity or reputation.” The proponents of the bill reason that this legislation is grounded on promoting and protecting national interests by dealing with citizens who propagate negative information to foreign governments which undermine Zimbabwe’s direct foreign investment prospects and increase the risk of sanctions.

But what about asylum seekers whose story may be rejected by the foreign government and who may be deported back to Zimbabwe:

Zimbabweans who seek asylum abroad, who may be unsuccessful in their claims and deported back to Zimbabwe will now face added danger under the new Patriotic Act, and could face the death penalty, for speaking about their personal experience and fears that in essence illustrates Zimbabwe's anti-LGBTI+ country conditions. Human Rights and LGBTQI+ related organizations who express disdain, report persecution about the existing anti-LGBTI laws, or simply advocate for reform, will now face the added danger of this new legislation which will serve to silence their voices. This legislation is so broad its dangers are unconscionable and must be challenged against the Constitution.


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