The Zimbabwean government has adopted a new law that would penalize citizens who are deemed to be unpatriotic. President Mnangagwa stated that the law would punish Zimbabweans who advocate for sanctions against the country. The move is largely viewed as an effort to stifle dissent and solidify the 80-year-old's hold on power.
The new law is called the Patriot Act and was modeled after the Logan Act of the United States. The Logan Act forbids negotiations between unauthorized American people and foreign governments that are involved in a conflict with the United States. The Act is designed to stop negotiations that undermine the position of the United States government. The Logan Act has only ever been violated by two people, neither of whom were found guilty.
Undermining National Interests
According to Monica Mutsvangwa, Zimbabwe's Minister of Information, the patriotic act will target people perceived to be damaging Zimbabwe’s national interests. In a press conference, Ms. Mutsvangwa stated, "By criminalizing conduct that threatens Zimbabwe's dignity, independence, and national interests, the act will strengthen matters relating to the country's sovereignty."
Zimbabwe Under Sanctions
Zimbabwe has been under economic sanctions since 2002. The southern African country was sanctioned by the United States, the EU, and many other developed countries because of the gross violation of human rights in the early 2000s after a disorderly land acquisition. Sanctions have been largely blamed for economic difficulties in Zimbabwe.
ZANU PF Politicians have blamed opposition political parties for begging for sanctions. They argue that, the Citizen Coalition for Change (CCC) led by Nelson Chamisa is responsible for instigating foreign governments to place sanctions on Zimbabwe. Now the new act will criminalize any unauthorized Zimbabwean speaking with any foreign government.
Freedom of speech
Critics claim that the new law is part of a larger campaign by the Zimbabwean leader, who took office in 2017 after a military coup that toppled the late Mugabe, to attack freedom of expression.
Mnangagwa, a longtime lieutenant of the late Mugabe, promised a new wave of democracy when he came back from a brief exile in South Africa following the coup. However, he has been charged with being a worse autocrat than his predecessor.
Tendai Biti, a former finance minister and current vice president of the Citizens Coalition for Change, called the planned law "fascist and unconstitutional."
The so-called Patriot Act is nothing more than a predatory tool to impose opposing viewpoints and ideals. According to Mr. Biti, "Every patriotic Zimbabwean will defend his or her nation, but they also have a responsibility to defend it against injustice, we condemn this fascist, desperate, and unlawful measure”
Early this year, the administration of President Mnangagwa also approved a draft law that would limit the ability of civil society organizations to receive foreign funds. The civil society organizations are charged with acting as money launderers for foreign governments funding Zimbabwe's opposition parties.
Shrinking Democratic Space in Zimbabwe
As Zimbabwe gears up for the 2023 elections, political observers have argued that democratic space in Zimbabwe is shrinking at an alarming rate. Journalists and opposition politicians against Mnangagwa are being jailed every week. For the past 20 years, elections in Zimbabwe have been marred by violence, and it seems like it will continue as opposition supporters are subjected to violence.