Zimbabwe: Government Proposes Tighter Controls over Social Media
In response to plans by the government of Zimbabwe to introduce legislation to tightly restrict access to social media and monitor private communications, with stiff criminal penalties for violators, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“The government of Zimbabwe’s Computer Crime and Cyber Crime Bill would severely limit citizens’ access to information, as the government tries to stifle calls for economic and political reform,” said Lynn Fredriksson, director for Southern Africa programs. “President Mugabe and Supa Mandiwandzira, the minister of information communication technology, should know that further stifling communication will lead to more anti-government demonstrations across the country.”
The government’s planned legislation would allow authorities to arbitrarily seize mobile phones, tablets and laptops; monitor private communications; interrupt broadband service; and sentence violators to imprisonment.
The legislation, which would supplement the National ICT Policy which is still being developed, is part of the government’s response to recent anti-government protests that have largely been organized and shared via social media. Hashtags such as #ThisFlag have attracted large numbers of followers.
Many Zimbabweans rely on Twitter and WhatsApp, which have been used to rally mass participation in demonstrations. In July, the government temporarily blocked access to WhatsApp, as it faced protests over its inability to pay civil servants’ salaries.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.