Social media clampdown in Zim 'will lead to court challenges' - press watchdog

2016-04-11 20:05


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Harare - Any attempt by President Robert Mugabe's government to regulate social media use in Zimbabwe could lead to costly court challenges, a press watchdog warned on Monday.

A report in the official Sunday Mail suggested the authorities were planning to increase "supervision" of social media . 

The newspaper said web developers were "in the process of stitching together products similar to social networking sites such as Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Skype and Twitter so as to enable greater supervision."

MISA-Zimbabwe said: "The government risks costly challenges by citizens and civil society in the Constitutional Court if it proceeds with haste and without taking into consideration citizens’ constitutionally-guaranteed rights to dignity, privacy, personal security, freedom of expression and access to information."

The report sparked outrage, although Information Communication Technology Minister Supa Mandiwanzira said on Twitter: "There is no plan to ban anything."

The authorities say new regulation is necessary to stop the "abuse" of social media. Mugabe, 92, hinted last week that Chinese-style regulation was necessary. Some suspect this is more about censorship on platforms where criticism of the long-time president, his wife Grace and his party is rife. 

Founder of the Election Resource Centre @tawandachimhini tweeted: "This will be fought ... we can't allow this. Legitimate fears of social media by the state can be addressed by already existing laws."

"If they are using the China model then the main reason is to #censor citizens & restrict #FreedomofExpression," tweeted @kudathove.

Mugabe's government in 2002 brought in tough press laws that led to the arrest of dozens of local journalists.

On Sunday Mandiwanzira tweeted: "We can't regulate creativity... And we will not. Let people copy, improve and excel." 

Some Zimbabweans use Twitter and Facebook to criticise the ruling Zanu-PF and alert others to controversial stories like the president staying on in Singapore last month after cancelling a taxpayer-funded trip to India. 

But others use social media to network and find business and scholarship opportunities in a country where those employed in the formal sector are few and far between - likely around 10% of the population.

There is a vibrant Zimbabwean diaspora on Twitter, which is often more vocal in its criticism.

Any move to block sites within Zimbabwe - if such a move should go ahead - would cut off a vital link to their homeland.

There was some scepticism on Twitter on Monday that the authorities would actually go ahead with the clampdown.

Tweeted @TrendsZim: "It is an empty threat. Too many pressing issues than to spend energy focusing on Social Media Regulation."

Read more on:    twitter  |  zimbabwe  |  social media  |  southern africa

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