Zimbabwe

Partly Free
49
100
A Obstacles to Access 8 25
B Limits on Content 23 35
C Violations of User Rights 18 40
Last Year's Score & Status
46 100 Partly Free
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least free) to 100 (most free). See the research methodology and report acknowledgements.

header1 Overview

Internet freedom in Zimbabwe slightly improved during the coverage period, in which the government enacted legislation that provides baseline protections for individuals’ personal data. Though the government did not repeat the internet restrictions imposed during mass protests in the previous coverage period, internet users experienced slowed connectivity when trying to access an online rally hosted by a major opposition party ahead of the March 2022 elections. Both journalists and ordinary users continued to face arrest and harassment for their online activities, particularly those that criticize President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government. A renewed economic crisis continued to lower many Zimbabweans’ standard of living and ability to access the internet.

The Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) has dominated Zimbabwean politics since independence in 1980, in part by carrying out severe crackdowns on the political opposition, critical media, and other sources of dissent. President Emmerson Mnangagwa took power in 2017 after the military intervened to remove longtime president Robert Mugabe amid factional divisions within the ruling party. However, the new administration has largely retained the legal, administrative, and security architecture inherited from the Mugabe regime, and after an initial period of improvement, stepped up repression to consolidate its authority. Endemic corruption, weak rule of law, and poor protections for workers and land rights remain among Zimbabwe’s critical challenges.

header2 Key Developments, June 1, 2021 - May 31, 2022

  • In February 2022, users experienced slowed connectivity on the day of a planned rally hosted by the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) party. Users were unable to access the livestream of the rally (see A3).
  • The government enacted the Cyber and Data Protection Act in December 2021 and created new protections for personal data. The law also amended provisions of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act and imposed new criminal penalties on online speech (see C2 and C6).
  • In November 2021, the government began drafting legislation that would criminalize conduct deemed to undermine Zambia in cooperation with a foreign government; civil society raised concerns that the law may be used to target online activists (see C2).
  • The Minister of Information, Publicity, and Broadcasting publicly noted that the government had set up teams to monitor social media posts (see C5).

A Obstacles to Access

A1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections? 1.001 6.006

Internet access is severely limited in Zimbabwe, exacerbated by the continued economic crisis and inadequate electrical infrastructure. While the government reports favorable statistics on internet penetration, the quality and accessibility of connections remain limited in practice, especially in rural and marginalized communities. Internet penetration remains lower in most rural and peri-urban areas due to relatively high costs and lack of infrastructure (see A2).

In December 2021, the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) reported an internet penetration rate of 62.6 percent, an improvement from the rate of 62 percent reported in the second quarter of 2021.1 By contrast, the latest available data from the Digital 2022 report points to a lower rate of internet penetration: 30.6 percent as of 2022.2 In the past, the government had reported 100 percent mobile phone penetration, likely because many users had more than one subscription.

A major threat to internet access for Zimbabwe’s citizens is the debilitating economic crisis. High inflation, unavailability of credit, reduced consumer spending, and foreign currency shortages further complicate the crisis.

3

Access to the internet is also severely affected by incessant power shortages; for instance, there have been several “technical faults” at the Hwange Power Stations and power stations in Kariba that have affected the supply of electricity.4 In September 2021, the Zimbabwe Electrical Supply Authority introduced a 12-hour-long load-shedding timetable throughout the country.5 The Minister of Energy and Power Development warned that power outages would continue until the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority charged a viable tariff.6

In the second half of 2021, POTRAZ reported the development of 52 new base transceiver stations. This figure represents a significant rise in telecommunications infrastructure development, though only 9 of the added stations support long-term evolution (LTE) networks with fourth-generation (4G) technology, while 22 stations use third-generation (3G) technology and 21 use second-generation (2G) technology.7 One of the mobile network operators, Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, also reportedly upgraded some of its base stations in rural areas to 4G networks.8 In February 2022, Econet Wireless Zimbabwe became the first operator to launch fifth-generation (5G) technology in the country.9

According to the Speedtest Global Index, Zimbabwe saw an average mobile download speed of 30.37 Megabits per second (Mbps) and mobile upload speeds of 8.60 Mbps as of July 2022.10 For fixed broadband, Zimbabwe saw average download speeds of 64.70 Mbps and average upload speeds of 27.74 Mbps as of July 2022.

A2 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons? 0.000 3.003

Access to the internet is sharply limited by Zimbabwe’s economic crisis, with internet users facing rising inflation and costs. Many poor rural communities struggle to access the internet and other telecommunications services.

The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the country’s economic crisis, outpacing government attempts to address such issues. Since 2020, mobile network operators have continued to increase their voice, data, and short-message service (SMS) prices.1 As of October 2021, NetOne was offering 10 gigabytes of data for $36, while Econet Wireless was offering 8 gigabytes for $31.2 In February 2022, NetOne increased the price of its data packages by over 100 percent, but quickly reversed the decision following public outcry.3

The Alliance for Affordable Internet ranked Zimbabwe 58 out of 72 low-income countries in terms of affordability of internet access in 2021. In 2020, Zimbabwe ranked 55 in the same index.4

There remain significant disparities between urban and rural Zimbabweans’ access to internet. According to POTRAZ’s 2021 fourth-quarter report, only 2.98 percent of individuals in rural communities have access to LTE service.5 In December 2021, local news outlets reported that, in partnership with POTRAZ, the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education and the Ministry of Information Communication Technology (ICT), Postal, and Courier Services had facilitated the provision of free internet service to 400 rural schools.6

For several years, POTRAZ has been establishing Community Information Centers (CICs) meant to improve internet access and digital literacy in marginalized communities; the agency planned to set up an additional 146 CICs in 2021.7 POTRAZ reported that over 11,000 people across the country had received free ICT training through the centers.8 However, usage of the centers is limited by digital literacy challenges in most rural communities, as well as by the public perception that access to the facilities will be restricted for people who are critical of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party.

A3 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity? 4.004 6.006

Leading up to the by-elections scheduled for March 2022, users experienced slowed connectivity on February 20, 2022, the day that the opposition CCC planned to livestream a rally.1 The slowdown prevented users from being able to watch the livestream of CCC’s rally. The director of POTRAZ denied the government’s involvement, instead claiming that the internet was slow because many internet users were downloading and sending videos at the same time.2

Users previously experienced slowed connectivity on the state-owned network TelOne on July 30 and July 31, 2020, after President Mnangagwa and government officials reportedly ordered connectivity restrictions to be imposed.3 Zimbabweans had planned protests for July 31 of that year in response to the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, reports of high-level corruption, and the economic crisis; the connectivity restrictions accompanied a broad crackdown on protesters and the opposition.4

Authorities previously imposed social media blocking and network shutdowns on January 15, 2019. The High Court ruled the government’s actions to be illegal on January 21, and access was fully restored by January 24.5 The disruptions came as the government struggled to control a series of national protests organized by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) over the country’s deteriorating economic conditions.6 The network shutdown was not absolute; partial service was available on at least one of the affected days.7 The blocked social media sites included Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Reddit.8 Econet said it received a warrant from the state security minister and the director general of the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) had instructed the mobile service provider to shut down access under the Interception of Communications Act. Econet noted that its executives faced possible imprisonment if they did not comply with the order.9

Some observers denounced the shutdown as an attempt to cover up security forces’ abuse of citizens during the protests (see B8).10 The court’s ruling against the network shutdown was based on the conclusion that the minister who issued the order did not have the authority to do so,11 rather than on the plaintiffs’ constitutional argument, prompting some observers to express concern that the decision left room for future network disruptions ordered by an official with the correct legal authority.

Zimbabwe has five international gateways for internet traffic, controlled by state-owned TelOne and Powertel and privately owned Dandemutande, Econet, and Africom. State control over two of the country’s gateways gives the government some ability to unilaterally restrict access to internet and mobile networks.

A4 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers? 3.003 6.006

The ICT market in Zimbabwe is diverse, with 12 licensed internet access providers (IAPs) and 14 internet service providers (ISPs) registered with the Zimbabwe Internet Service Providers Association (ZISPA) in 2022.1

Regulatory license fees for ISPs range from US $2 million to US $5 million, depending on the type of service.2 Providers must also pay 3.5 percent of their annual gross income to the regulator.

Zimbabwe has five mobile service providers: privately owned Econet and Africom, and state-owned TelOne, Telecel, and NetOne. Econet remains the dominant player among mobile service providers. As of September 2021, Econet had a 65.1 percent market share, NetOne had a 30.7 percent market share, and Telecel had a 4.2 percent market share.3 Telecel continues to underperform compared to its competitors; in February 2022, Telecel’s software license expired, and users reportedly faced issues making voice calls and accessing data services.4

License fees for mobile service providers in Zimbabwe are $137 million for a 20-year period and fees for fixed-line providers are $100 million for a 20-year period.5 Operators also pay high taxes and contribute 1.5 percent of their annual gross turnover towards the Universal Service Fund,6 potentially deterring new players from entering the market. According to Econet, license fee requirements have been used to undermine private companies, as the state-owned firms have not been forced to pay the full amount.7 Former information minister Jonathan Moyo, who was expelled from ZANU–PF after the 2017 ouster of Mugabe, has accused Econet of cooperation and exchanges of favors with the ruling party,8 though these claims have not been independently verified.9

A5 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner? 0.000 4.004

Mobile and fixed-line service providers are regulated by POTRAZ, whose leaders are appointed by the president in consultation with the Ministry of ICT. POTRAZ is expected to operate independently, but in practice its independence has been questioned over the years, as it has become increasingly subordinated to state security agencies since the appointment of the current director general.

In December 2021, the Minister of ICT dismissed three POTRAZ board members for allegedly defying directives to develop strategic plans to use the Universal Services Fund, demonstrating the ministry’s involvement in both POTRAZ’s membership and operations.1

In February 2020, the government retroactively exempted Huawei from paying income tax from December 2009 to February 2020, extending an exemption granted in 2014.2 Commentators and civil society groups expressed concern about POTRAZ’s independence and about Huawei’s preferential treatment at the expense of other taxpayers in Zimbabwe.3

In October 2019, POTRAZ was commended for censuring Econet over its spamming of subscribers with advertisements for its social media platform, Sasai. POTRAZ stated that it had “taken note of the numerous complaints” from users about the constant messages they had received.4 Econet stopped after the intervention. In the previous coverage period, Harare lawyer Skhumbuzo Mpofu argued that Econet’s unsolicited messages about the COVID-19 pandemic and other promotions were an invasion of privacy; in February 2021, the High Court issued an interim order requiring Econet to cease sending unsolicited messages to its clients.5

POTRAZ was largely seen as having supported and enabled the government’s order to restrict connectivity in January 2019. The authority was named as one of the defendants in the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) lawsuit against the government that eventually ended the network shutdown (see A3).6

Gift Machengete, a former intelligence official, has served as the director general of POTRAZ since his appointment in 2016. Observers have stated that his appointment was an indication of the government’s plans to monitor and restrict online activities.7 IAPs and ISPs are also subject to security screenings by the military, according to local sources.

B Limits on Content

B1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 6.006 6.006

No blocking or filtering of internet content was observed during the coverage period, though websites and social media platforms have been blocked in recent years during politically sensitive moments.

In January 2019, social media and messaging platforms—including Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit, and Tinder—were blocked for about one week during contentious protests (see A3).1 The block began on January 15 and continued until a court ordered providers to lift the blocks on January 21; access to social media was fully restored by January 24.2 Searches for and use of virtual private networks (VPNs) surged during this period, as individuals sought ways to circumvent the restrictions.3

In the days following the July 2018 elections, Zimelection.com, the website of the independent United Kingdom–based advocacy organization Zimbabwe Election 2018, was blocked by state-owned TelOne.4 The site remained accessible via other ISPs.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 3.003 4.004

Civic and opposition leaders have deleted Facebook and Twitter posts in response to threats or arrests. For example, local sources reported that Chalton Hwende, a leading parliamentarian then representing the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), deleted tweets in January 2019 that called for protests against President Mnangagwa after Hwende received online threats and harassment from Mnangagwa’s supporters.1 Hwende was arrested in March 2019 and charged with treason; the case against him was dropped in September 2020 (see C3).2

The Cyber and Data Protection Act (see C6), enacted in December 2021, protects service providers from liability for illegal content uploaded by users. The Act carries criminal penalties3 for providers that fail to remove illegal content when ordered by a court or other public authority or upon discovery by the service provider, including a fine of 200,000 Zimbabwe dollars ($553) and imprisonment of up to two years.4

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process? 2.002 4.004

Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 because the government did not re-impose arbitrary decisions to shut down or restrict the internet.

The network shutdown in mid-January 2019 exposed the lack of safeguards against arbitrary government decisions affecting internet access (see A3). The High Court judgment that nullified the shutdown exposed the abuse of existing national laws, especially the Interception of Communications Act.1

Though the High Court ordered the government to restore connectivity during the January 2019 shutdown, it did not rule internet shutdowns illegal. Rather, it ruled that only President Mnangagwa had the authority to order connectivity restrictions; the state security minister had ordered the January shutdown.2 In their legal argument against the shutdown, MISA and ZLHR noted that the unlawful suspension of the sites exposed citizens and businesses to unnecessary losses of income, among other disproportionate harms.3 The service disruption also affected students, and ordinary people were unable to carry out daily activities—such as electronic banking—that are essential for meeting their basic needs.4 In its response to the challenge, the government focused on national security, arguing that the shutdown was justified because the internet and social media were contributing to violence and illegal activity.5

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship? 2.002 4.004

Self-censorship remains common among Zimbabweans.

The arrest of human rights defenders and opposition figures over their online activism, as well as the government’s threatening statements about posting critical content, increased individuals’ hesitancy to express their opinions online during the coverage period.1 The Cyber and Data Protection Act, enacted in December 2021, categorizes the publication of false news as a criminal offense (see C2).

Statements by the Ministry of Home Affairs, military, police, and senior government officials have also been interpreted as attempts to instill self-censorship among internet users. In April 2022, the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Information argued for a law that criminalizes “campaigning against one’s own country,” following an address by journalist Hopewell Chin’ono on the state of human rights in Zimbabwe at a summit in Geneva.2 In November 2021, the Minister of Information, Publicity, and Broadcasting Services said that the government had set up a “cyber-team” for the purpose of social media monitoring.3

Human rights activists and content creators based outside of Zimbabwe continue to share information and openly criticize the government, though they fear arrest or prosecution if they return to Zimbabwe.4

B5 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest? 2.002 4.004

Reports suggest that ZANU–PF pays progovernment commentators, also known as varakashi, to defend the administration and attack opponents on social media. In April 2022, the Varakashi4ED, a pro-ruling party social media group wrote a petition to the Attorney General, calling on him to expedite the drafting of the Patriotic Bill following journalist Hopewell Chin’ono’s speech at the UN Human Rights Summit in Geneva (B4).1 In 2019, Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba appeared to imply that ZANU-PF paid a prominent progovernment Twitter user.2 Addressing ZANU-PF youth activists in March 2018, Mnangagwa urged them to “dominate” the social media space ahead of the elections.3 Observers noted that the statement coincided with an increase in anonymous accounts on both Facebook and Twitter that attacked perceived government opponents, especially human rights defenders and opposition party members.4 The trend continued, with human rights activists and opposition figures reporting attacks on social media by accounts they believe are linked to ZANU-PF.5

B6 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online? 1.001 3.003

Online news outlets and other content producers are free to seek advertising without onerous legal restrictions. However, the allocation of advertising may be affected by political pressures or interests, limiting revenues for outlets that are critical of the authorities. The country’s dire economic situation, which can be attributed in large part to government corruption and mismanagement, also threatens the financial viability of online publishing.

In January 2022, the government announced that they had formed a partnership with Daedalus World Limited, a business management consultant company, to collect taxes from e-commerce operators, including digital advertisers and content platforms.1

The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) requires that webcasting be licensed under the Broadcasting Services Act.2 However, the rule has largely been ignored by recently formed online news agencies, many of which distribute content on YouTube without being licensed.

B7 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the online information landscape lack diversity and reliability? 3.003 4.004

Zimbabwe’s online landscape continues to grow in vibrancy, with services like Facebook, Google, and YouTube freely available and among the country’s most popular websites. The Digital 2022 report recorded 1.55 million social media accounts active in Zimbabwe as of January 2022.1 The report also recorded 1.3 million internet active Facebook users.

Numerous citizen initiatives have taken advantage of the increased access to ICT networks, such as youth ICT network Magamba’s @OpenParlyZW Twitter account that monitors parliamentary activities.2 Other citizen journalism efforts on social media, such as @263 on Twitter, have developed into full-fledged online news outlets.3

In recent years, various online news agencies have been launched by junior and senior journalists, many of whom were frustrated over the lack of journalistic opportunities and the political capture of mainstream newspapers. Such platforms include NewsHawks, an investigative journalism platform associated with senior Zimbabwean journalists.4 The Centre for Innovation and Technology, a digital start up, has also reshaped the media landscape in Zimbabwe by taking advantage of tools like Twitter Spaces to deliver information.5

Online misinformation has become more prevalent in recent years. In September 2021, for example, an article published by the Herald, a state-owned news outlet, alleged that some citizens and members of the media were being paid by the United States to spread misinformation against Chinese companies and nationals in Zimbabwe.6

There was a notable increase in falsehoods disseminated on social media during the COVID-19 pandemic, including from government officials and opposition leaders. Fact-checking organizations like ZimFact attempted to limit the spread of false information about COVID-19 by partnering with fact-checkers across the region.7 The proliferation of misinformation about the pandemic, COVID-19's health effects, and government responses to the pandemic have harmed Zimbabweans’ ability to access reliable information online.8

Several stories amplifying falsehoods gained enough traction that the government addressed them directly. In January and February 2021, the government addressed citizens’ fears that the vaccine from the company Sinopharm was not fully developed, as social media stories questioning the efficacy of the vaccine proliferated.9 In June 2020, the government was forced to issue a statement denying social media stories that a coup to topple President Emmerson Mnangagwa was imminent.10 The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe issued a statement in January 2021 to deny online rumors11 that it was introducing higher Zimbabwe dollar denominations as inflation continued to rise.12

B8 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues? 4.004 6.006

Social media is a key source of information for citizens and activists, and Zimbabweans frequently mobilize in protests and campaigns online. During the coverage period, Zimbabweans supported and engaged with social media campaigns criticizing human rights abuses, poor governance, and corruption.

Zimbabweans have used the hashtag #DataMustFallZW since May 2020 to protest price hikes on data packages instituted by mobile service providers.1 As a result of this online mobilization, in February 2022, NetOne reverted to its older, lower prices for mobile and data services.2 In May 2022, Zimbabweans also used the hashtag #ShutDownZimbabwe in order to protest against the ongoing economic crisis in Zimbabwe.3

President Mnangagwa has referred to the online campaigns against human rights abuses and corruption as “a cyber-war on our country in pursuit of a regime change agenda.”4 People active on social media during the protests have been targeted for arrest, like Chin’ono and MDC leader Jacob Ngarivhume, both of whom were charged for using social media to incite violence (see C3).5 Social media users campaigned for their release online.6

C Violations of User Rights

C1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence? 2.002 6.006

The 2013 constitution provides for press freedom, freedom of expression, and access to information. These guarantees are contradicted by a number of laws,1 including by the Cyber and Data Protection Act, 2021, enacted during the coverage period (see C2).

The Freedom of Information General Regulations, enacted in September 2021, mandates that ordinary citizens pay fees to file an appeal or gain access to information.2 Another law, the Interception of Communications Act, was used as a justification for the internet shutdown in January 2019 (see A3).3

Zimbabwe’s courts have been inundated with many cases involving online journalists and political activists arrested for their online activities (see C3). In a positive sign for judicial independence, in April 2021, a High Court judge invalidated section 31(a)(iii) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, a provision used to charge many of those arrested for their online activities (see C2).4 However, human rights defenders and opposition political groups have raised concerns that the judiciary is complicit in human rights violations. Journalists like Hopewell Chin’ono have faced long periods of pretrial detention, political activists have been denied bail, and others have been brought to court in leg irons or denied medical attention while in prison.5

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 1.001 4.004

Several laws criminalize online expression in Zimbabwe, including a law that seeks to criminalize the spread of false information.

In December 2021, the Zimbabwe government enacted the Cyber and Data Protection Act (see C6).1 Section 164, which amends the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act, bars messages distributed via computer or information system with the intention of inciting others “to commit acts of violence against any person or persons, or to cause damage to any property.” Violation of this section carries a fine of up to 280,000 Zimbabwe dollars ($774), up to five years imprisonment, or both. The law imposes similar criminal penalties for sending threatening messages, cyberbullying and harassment, and the transmission of intimate images without consent. The law also imposes fines of up to 280,000 Zimbabwe dollars ($774), up to ten years imprisonment, or both, for the creation or distribution online of “racist or xenophobic material” and “language that tends to lower the reputation or feelings of persons” because of their membership in a protected group.2

The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act places restrictions on certain types of speech that apply equally online and offline. Section 33 of the law characterizes “undermining [the] authority of or insulting [the] President” in any printed or electronic medium as a crime against the state and prescribes fines, penalties of up to one year in prison, or both as punishment.3 A landmark constitutional ruling in 2016 annulled Section 96 of this Act, which had criminalized defamation,4 though the vaguely defined “criminal insult” remains an offense under Section 95.

In April 2021, the High Court invalidated Section 31(a)(iii) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, which criminalizes publishing or communicating falsehoods prejudicial to the state, on the grounds that the Constitutional Court struck it down under the former constitution.5 However, criminal penalties on publishing or communicating falsehoods were reintroduced under the Cyber and Data Protection Act. 6

In April 2020, the government passed Statutory Instrument 83 of 2020, Public Health (COVID-19 Prevention, Containment, and Treatment) Regulations, which continues to be enforced despite some COVID-19 requirements being relaxed. Section 14 of the law seeks to combat misinformation around the COVID-19 pandemic. The law criminalizes the publication of “false news” about public officials involved in enforcing lockdown restrictions. Anyone arrested for an infraction would be prosecuted under the criminal code, with punishments of a fine of up to 500,000 Zimbabwe dollars ($1,400), up to 20 years imprisonment, or both.7

The government is still considering a so-called “Patriot Bill,” which would criminalize what the government calls campaigns against one’s country and engaging with foreign governments.8 Human rights defenders have expressed concerns that the law is aimed at silencing government critics, including online activists.9 As of November 2021, the Cabinet reportedly approved principles of the law and the attorney general had started drafting the provisions.10

C3 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Are individuals penalized for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 3.003 6.006

The government is intolerant of critical online commentary and activism, often invoking vaguely written laws to arrest social media users who engage in such activity. Full prosecutions and lengthy prison sentences are less common.

In May 2022, Raymond Chari was arrested for allegedly cyberbullying Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Tanzania, Anselem Sanyatwe, and his wife Chido Sanyatwe, a member of Parliament representing ZANU-PF. According to the prosecutor, Chari harassed the two by using "unprintable words" in a WhatsApp group. He was charged under Section 164B of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act, as amended in the Cyber and Data Protection Act.1 The same month, David Kanduna, a young TV actor, was arrested and charged with cyberbullying regarding a video he posted on WhatsApp and TikTok. Kanduna had recorded a video of a uniformed, on-duty police officer being jeered at and hoisted in the air by college students. He was fined 3,000 Zimbabwe dollars ($8.29).2 Two journalists from the online television channel Heart & Soul TV were also arrested in May after photographing officers attempting to detain an opposition lawmaker. If convicted, the journalists face up to one year in prison and a fine of up to 70,000 Zimbabwe dollars ($193.42).3

After the coverage period, in June 2022, the editor of the news website ZimLive was detained and charged with insulting and undermining the authority of the president based on a tweet regarding the president’s fiscal policies. If convicted, he faces one year in jail or a fine of up to 4,800 Zimbabwe dollars ($13.26).4

Prominent journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was arrested for his online activities on three separate occasions during the previous coverage period. In July 2020, Chin’ono was arrested and subsequently charged with incitement to violence relating to photos and videos he had posted on Twitter about the anti-government protests. Commentators raised concerns that Chin’ono was arrested in retaliation for a series of June 2020 Facebook posts alleging that the president’s son, Collins Mnangagwa, was involved in corrupt business dealings related to government contracts for medical supplies to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.5 Chin’ono was released on bail in September 2020, alongside Jacob Ngarivhume, an opposition politician who was also arrested on similar charges that July. Both Chin’ono and Ngarivhume were banned from using social media for their activism as part of their bail conditions.6 On November 3, 2020, Chin’ono was arrested for allegedly violating the terms of his bail; he had posted on Twitter sharing concerns that the chief justice intervened in the initial decision to deny him bail when he and Ngarivhume were first arrested that July.7 Chin’ono was subsequently granted bail on November 20, under the condition that he not post on Twitter in ways that would “obstruct justice.”8 He was arrested again on January 8, 2021, for allegedly publishing false information when he wrote on Twitter that a police officer had beaten a child to death while enforcing COVID-19 restrictions.9 He was granted bail on January 27, 2021, again subject to limits on his Twitter usage.10 In April 2021, the High Court threw out charges brought against Chin’ono in his January arrest in a ruling that invalidated Section 31(a)(iii) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (see C2). Chin’ono’s trial on the charge of inciting public violence is set to commence in October 2022.11

Several cases from 2019 and early 2020 remained ongoing or were presumed to be ongoing at the end of the coverage period. Chrispen Rambu, an opposition party council member in Chipinge, was arrested in April 2020 for calling President Mnangagwa a fool in a WhatsApp message. Rambu was charged under section 33 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act and was released on bail awaiting trial as of May 2020.12 The status of his case was unknown as of July 2022.

In May 2020, Robert Zakeyo and Admire Mupemhi were arrested and charged under Section 33(2)(b) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act for allegedly undermining the authority of the president. The two are said to have shared a video clip on WhatsApp lampooning President Mnangagwa over his economic policies and calling him a frog. They were reported to the police by another member in the group. Both men were released pending charges as of May 2020.13 The status of their cases was unknown as of July 2022. Goodman Musariri, a member of the ruling ZANU-PF party, was also arrested in April 2020 for undermining the authority of the president. Musariri allegedly sent a WhatsApp message in a political party group saying that President Mnangagwa had nothing to offer the country, had less than 18 years to live, and must resign and let his deputy take over. Musariri was released on bail pending trial in May 2020;14 he appeared in court in May 2021.15 As of July 2022, his case was pending in the High Court.

Some of the individuals arrested in 2019 and early 2020 saw their charges dropped, often due to the government failing to proceed with the prosecution. Charges against then MDC parliamentarian Chalton Hwende, who had been arrested and charged with subverting the government in January 2019 after allegedly inciting violence on Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp during the January protests, were dropped in September 2020.16

C4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption? 3.003 4.004

User privacy and anonymity are compromised by SIM-card registration regulations implemented in 2011. These regulations require mobile phone subscribers to submit details about their personal identity to service providers, ostensibly to combat crime and curtail threatening or obscene communications.1 Under the 2013 Postal and Telecommunications (Subscriber Registration) Regulations (Statutory Instrument 142 of 2013), subscribers must register with all telecommunications service providers by providing personal details, including a full name, permanent residential address, nationality, gender, subscriber identification number, and national identification or passport number.2 Service providers are then required to retain such personal information for five years after either party has discontinued the subscription.

Under Section 11(1) of the Interception of Communications Act 2007, security and law enforcement agencies can require individuals to hand over decryption keys for vague reasons, including to protect the interests of national security, to prevent or detect a serious criminal offense, or to ensure the country’s economic well-being.3

Under Section 163B of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act, individuals cannot deny, hinder, or block authorized persons, such as law enforcement, from accessing computer data.4

The privacy of mobile subscribers was violated during the July 2018 elections when unsolicited campaign messages were disseminated by ZANU-PF. Both the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and mobile service providers denied giving the party access to phone numbers;5 the ZEC had compiled phone numbers as part of the voter registration process. ZANU-PF’s campaign messages mentioned the recipients by name, including many who were not party members, suggesting that individuals’ privacy rights had been violated.

C5 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy? 2.002 6.006

Concerns that the that the Zimbabwean government is increasing its surveillance capacity were substantiated during the coverage period.

In November 2021, the Minister of Information, Publicity, and Broadcasting Services indicated that the government was monitoring social media communications (see B4).

An investigation released by the Citizen Lab in December 2020 identified the Zimbabwean government as a likely customer of Circles, a surveillance company that enables the monitoring of calls, texts, and cell phone geolocation by exploiting weaknesses in mobile telecommunications infrastructure.1 In February 2021, NewsHawks, a Zimbabwean investigative reporting website, alleged that then vice president Kembo Mohadi was targeted by Circles spyware amid internal power struggles within ZANU-PF, citing anonymous intelligence sources; audio recordings of Mohadi’s numerous affairs had been released publicly, eventually prompting his resignation.2

In May 2020, parliamentarian Joana Mamombe and her fellow opposition activists Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova, alleged they had been arrested during a protest, abducted, tortured, and sexually assaulted by security forces. In June of that year, Home Affairs Minister Kazembe Kazembe challenged their allegations, releasing an analysis of their mobile phones’ geolocation data that purportedly showed that they were not at the location of their alleged arrest.3 The veracity of the data is unclear, as is how the government obtained the data—whether through surveillance technology or by accessing data from a telecommunications provider. Prosecutors pursued legal action against Mamombe, Chimbiri, and Marova for making false accusations, and officials have repeatedly detained them in what seems to be an attempt to reduce the credibility of their allegations.4 The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission corroborated the torture allegations in a May 2020 preliminary investigation shortly after the three women were released.5 During their trial in September 2020, the activists successfully sought a court order to compel Econet to release their mobile phone records, including location information, during the period of their abduction; the records have not been made public.6 Court proceedings in the case remain ongoing as of May 2022.

Opposition leaders have claimed that their online activities are under constant state surveillance. In 2020, parliamentarian and then MDC representative Chalton Hwende, who faced treason charges in 2019, claimed his communications were under surveillance.7

In March 2018, the government partnered with Chinese company CloudWalk Technology to implement a nationwide facial recognition program, underscoring concerns about unchecked government surveillance.8 In China, facial recognition technology has already been used to persecute human rights activists;9 analysts worry that the new program could empower the Zimbabwean government to do the same. MISA also expressed concerns about how the technology might infringe on ordinary citizens’ privacy rights.10 The program is part of China’s investment of $71 million through its global Belt and Road Initiative for the development of Zimbabwe’s ICT infrastructure. In May 2019, the deputy commissioner general of the police announced the receipt of advanced surveillance equipment, though he did not specify which technologies in particular.11

In October 2020, a document accusing several online journalists and citizens who use online media for activism of seeking to sabotage the government was leaked to NewsDay. The document, which was attributed to Zimbabwean security services, lists the names of individuals accused of leading online campaigns and calls on state security agents to place their online activities under constant watch. Officials associate the success of these tactics with the arrests of Hopewell Chin’ono and Jacob Ngarivhume (see B8 and C3), and have noted “a critical need to widen the net.”12

Several legal provisions may permit the government to conduct surveillance without sufficient oversight. The Post and Telecommunications Act of 2000 allows the government to intercept ostensibly suspicious communications.13 Provisions in the Cyber and Data Protection Act also authorize the interception, search, and seizure of electronic devices, without mandating sufficient oversight to prevent abuse (see C6).14 The Interception of Communications Act, enacted in 2007, allows the police, intelligence office, Tax Revenue Authority, and the Department of National Security in the President’s Office to request a warrant from the minister of transport and communications to intercept communications for the purposes of law enforcement, national security, or compelling national economic interests.15 The law does not ensure judicial oversight of the warrants or ensure that users are notified if there is a warrant for their communications.

The Cyber and Data Protection Act amends the Interception of Communications Act and establishes the Cybersecurity and Monitoring of Interception of Communications Center. The center is housed in the president’s office, making it difficult to facilitate oversight of the center’s activities.

C6 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does monitoring and collection of user data by service providers and other technology companies infringe on users’ right to privacy? 2.002 6.006

Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 because the Cyber and Data Protection Act, which establishes a baseline set of personal data protections, was enacted in December 2021.

Zimbabwe’s legal framework requires service providers and technology companies to provide user information to the government. The government recently enacted a data protection bill, which established baseline protections for personal data.

The Cyber and Data Protection Act, enacted in December 2021, regulates the collection, processing, transmission, use, and storage of data. The law establishes a baseline set of data protections for data processed in Zimbabwe, with special safeguards for sensitive personal information, such as information about a person’s race, ethnicity, or sex life, and for health data, biometric data, and genetic data.1 Concerningly, the consent requirement for the processing of non-sensitive personal data includes a provision permitting that consent “may be implied,” significantly weakening such protections.2 The legislation also has broad and poorly defined exceptions to the data protection framework, such as for processing “in the public interest” or national security.3 It also permits the Data Protection Authority to create new categories of exemption. Though the law would impose some limits on the transfer of personal data outside of Zimbabwe to countries without an adequate standard of protection, those limits would also include broad exemptions.4

The Act designates POTRAZ, the telecommunications regulator, as the data protection authority. MISA–Zimbabwe has criticized the government for appointing POTRAZ as the data protection authority, citing concerns over the organization’s independence and noting potential conflicts of interest, given that POTRAZ regulates the industry with the most data controllers and processors.5 In February 2022, POTRAZ issued a notice calling on all data controllers and processors to start complying with the Act and to provide the organization with information about the purpose of their data collection. POTRAZ has also established processes for users to submit complaints in instances where data is processed without their consent.6

In February 2021, President Mnangagwa launched the National Data Centre, a data storage infrastructure project that the government plans to link to the national identity registration system and Zimbabwe’s planned Smart City network, which will be equipped with surveillance technology.7 Civil society organizations like MISA–Zimbabwe have raised concerns about the misuse of personal data by the Centre, while8 others have criticized the involvement of Chinese companies that have links to the Chinese military.9

In September 2020, the High Court invalidated a warrant for the telecommunications provider Econet’s subscriber database due to privacy concerns. Zimbabwean police had sought access to the database in pursuit of illegal dealers of foreign currency, who police alleged were using Econet’s mobile money transfer platform Ecocash.10

Under a 2014 amendment to the 2013 Postal and Telecommunications (Subscriber Registration) Regulations (Statutory Instrument 142 of 2013), law enforcement agents must obtain a court order or a warrant to request information from a central subscriber information database established under that law.11 Zimbabwe’s Parliamentary Legal Committee noted that the 2014 amendment falls short of independent judicial oversight since a warrant “can be issued by police officers who have been designated as justices of the peace.”12 In 2017, POTRAZ invited companies to bid for a contract to build the information database.13

The Cyber and Data Protection Act also amends the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act to specify that the police are required to obtain a warrant from a judicial official before accessing a computer or computer data.14

The Post and Telecommunications Act of 2000 requires a telecommunications licensee, such as an ISP, to supply information to government officials upon request.15 Section 88 of the Act also obligates the companies to report any communications with “offensive” or “threatening” content.16

C7 1.00-5.00 pts0-5 pts
Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in relation to their online activities? 3.003 5.005

Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 because there were fewer cases of individuals facing harassment and intimidation in retaliation for their online activities during the coverage period.

Online journalists and ICT users face regular harassment and intimidation for their online activities. Members of the political opposition and human rights defenders similarly encounter threats in response to their communications via social media and messaging tools.1

Journalists and activists often receive harassing and intimidating phone calls from unknown individuals in response to their online activities. In January 2022, journalist Mujopeni Mudimba was harassed by an unknown person who called him using a private number. Mudimba had published and circulated a story via WhatsApp on the eviction of local villagers by a Chinese company.2 After the coverage period, in June 2022, after publishing two articles about alleged corruption on online outlet Bulawayo 24 news, Simbarashe Sithole received a phone call from a man who threatened to assault him.3

During the coverage period, ZANU-PF supporters continued to harass Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri, and Netsai Marova—all opposition youth leaders—on social media for their allegations that they had been arrested and tortured by security forces in May 2020 (see C5).

In previous years, online users also faced violence in retaliation for their online activities. In February 2021, ZANU-PF supporters besieged the office of MDC vice president Tendai Biti and threatened to kill Biti over his social media posts.4 A ZANU-PF spokesperson criticized Biti in January for tweeting that the government should take responsibility for every COVID-19 death in Zimbabwe.5 In September 2020, Nickson Mpofu was abducted and severely tortured after posting on Facebook about government corruption involving a rental car company linked to the abduction and torture of student Tawanda Muchehiwa. 6

C8 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack? 2.002 3.003

Cyberattacks targeting government websites regularly succeed. In April 2022, the Zimbabwean Parliament reported that its Twitter account was hacked for one day.1 In September 2021, Newsday reported that the Zimbabwe Defence Forces’ website had been hacked, though the organization never released a public statement confirming the attack.2 In October 2021, the National University of Science and Technology’s website was hacked, and students’ examination results were deleted from the website.3

In July 2020, the websites of 17 government ministries and departments were hacked by Ghost Squad Hackers, a politically motivated group of international hackers. Some of the websites, including those of the Defence Ministry, the National Army, and the Surveyor General’s office were briefly inaccessible, though whether data was exfiltrated remains unclear.4

On Zimbabwe

See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.

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  • Global Freedom Score

    28 100 not free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    49 100 partly free
  • Freedom in the World Status

    Not Free
  • Networks Restricted

    Yes
  • Websites Blocked

    No
  • Pro-government Commentators

    Yes
  • Users Arrested

    Yes