Criminalising Tweets in Zimbabwe

A report Richard M. Kawazi

The conviction and sentencing of political activist and leader of Transform Zimbabwe, Jacob Ngarivhume is a direct threat to freedom of expression and democratic participation in the media.

Ngarivhume was sentenced to 48 months in prison for inciting public violence at a planned protest against corruption in government through Twitter posts.

This report will unpack the limitations on freedom of expression in Zimbabwe and how activism movements on social media can result in criminal acts.

Tweets that got Ngarivhume and Chin’ono arrested

Central to Ngarivhume’s conviction is the extent to which the right to freedom of expression of anti-government activists and targeted persons can be suppressed.

Kubatana (2020) Ngarivhume posted a message on Twitter a few hours before he was arrested, saying,

“When I proposed a national demonstration, I knew the risks. But it is sickening for the state to pretend to care about COVID-19 lives yet send me messages threatening to kill me and my family.”

Jacob Ngarivhume

Independent Journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was also arrested in July 2020, and charged for tweeting this.

” “@Ngarivhume and many others have come to put their hands up and said they will lead anti-looting demo on July 31,”, “Zimbabwe will never be free from looters through elections; it is just a waste of time,” and “If you feel like shouting #zanuPFMustGo and Mnangagwa and his regime have failed, how they will go will be determined by history, and yet Mnangagwa refuses change will come by any means.”

Kubtana (2020) reported this on Hopewell Chin’ono on arrest.

“ZRP members charged Chin’ono with incitement to participate in a gathering with intent to promote public violence, breaches of peace, or bigotry as defined in Section 187(1)(a) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act as read with Section 37(1)(a)(i) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.

ZRP members also pressed alternative charges of incitement to commit public violence as defined in Section 187(1)(a) as read with Section 36(1)(a) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.

What the law says about their conviction

As such, if one is charged with inciting public violence, they also forfeit their right to freedom of expression.

Newswire (2020) Section 187 of the Criminal Law Code defines incitement as communicating with another person with the intention to persuade or induce them or with the realization that there is a real risk or possibility that they will be persuaded or induced to commit a crime.

The same section also says it is immaterial whether the other person responded to the incitement, had no intention of responding to the incitement, or did not know that what they were being incited to do was a crime.

As Zimbabwe moves towards general elections, the recent convictions of author Tsitsi Dangarembga and political activists Fadzai Mahere and Jacob Ngarivhume have become a deterrent to free speech and democratic participation in the media.

The constitution of Zimbabwe guarantees citizens in Zimbabwe the right to protest peacefully, as provided for in Section 59 of the Constitution.

Ngarivhume’s conviction sparked outrage and considered a subliminal attack on digital rights and freedoms of expression. Online activists pursuing movements to hold governments accountable are forced to practice self-censorship to avert the risk of possible arrest and conviction.

In reality, the social media community is abuzz with protest movements such as #ZisoPamuroyi and #ZanuPFMustGo, which are led by social justice activists.

However, there is risk of possible arrest and conviction, as was the fate of the spokesperson of the main opposition, Fadzai Mahere, and the leader of Transform Zimbabwe, Jacob Ngarivhume.

Mobile journalists are now forced to self-censor and sound politically correct all the time.

There is fear and real threats to contributing and participating towards socio-political discourse on social media.

Presidential Spokesperson George Charamba leveled threats against journalists who dared to report on the recent allegations by Al Jezeera’s documentary on the gold mafia and the largest money laundering scheme in Africa.

The law enforcement and judiciary are now used as instruments to infringe targeted digital rights that promote freedom of expression and association.

However, the right to protest is subject to reasonable restrictions that are necessary to protect the rights and freedoms of others, public safety, public order, public morality, and public health.

It is important to note that protesters must follow the law and obtain any necessary permits or authorizations before holding a protest. Additionally, the police have a duty to protect protesters and ensure that they are not disrupted by counter-protesters or violence.

The Future of Digital Rights

Digital rights are also human rights. The law must be aligned with the current state of technology.

There is a need to improve definitions of what amounts to spreading false information and inciting violence.

The right to democratically participate on social media and enjoy the right to freedom of expression.



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