Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) notes with concern the announcement by the Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services stating that government has appointed social media monitoring teams to monitor citizens’ online activities.
In a news article published by NewsDay newspaper on 4 November 2021, it was reported that Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Senator Monica Mutsvangwa said that the government had “come up with a cyber-team that is constantly on social media to monitor what people send and receive” and that “People used to have fear and have respect on social media during Mugabe’s time, but all that is no longer there in the second republic”, Mutsvangwa is quoted to have said that. Minister Mutsvangwa however, stated that government did not intend to regulate social media.
ZLHR is alarmed and disturbed by these announcements. Minister Mutsvangwa’s utterances should not be viewed in isolation, they indicate government’s long-existing desire to muzzle citizens through mass surveillance.
ZLHR is worried that plans to monitor social media have a devastating impact on the right to privacy and freedom of expression. The monitoring of social media networks will be used by Zimbabwean authorities to further clamp down on perceived government opponents and citizens who express themselves freely on social media. Presently, there are a number of people who include opposition political party leaders who are being prosecuted over statements in exercise of their freedom of expression that they have made on social media platforms.
ZLHR reminds government of its obligation to promote, protect and respect citizens’ fundamental human rights protected under several provisions of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. Citizens have a right to privacy (Section 57 of the Constitution) which includes the right not to have the privacy of their communications invaded. The right to freedom of expression, online and offline is the fundamental bedrock of democracy and it is important to an individual’s personal development, political consciousness and participation in public affairs
ZLHR, therefore, calls upon government to take a rights-based approach in the regulation of the internet and to:
- Stop mass surveillance of citizens on online and social media;
- Urgently remove restrictions on freedom of expression, access to information and guarantee freedom after speech;
- Fully align all media laws with the Constitution, implementing all outstanding law reform recommendations made by regional and international human rights bodies;
- To abide by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa 2019.
Source: Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights