'We’ll nail those who do mischief': Mugabe on social media 'abuse'

Harare - President Robert Mugabe’s spokesperson says the president set up a brand new ministry dedicated to cyber security in order to "nail" those causing "mischief" on the internet.

"I want to give these words from the president. He said that the [Cyber Security] ministry… will help us in nailing those who do mischief using cyber space," presidential spokesperson George Charamba told reporters at State House on Tuesday.

Lessons from Russia, China

He said former finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, a lawyer, had been appointed as the new minister because the ministry "needs law development".

Charamba said Mugabe wanted the minister to draw lessons from some of its eastern allies.

"He [Mugabe] specifically made reference to Russia, he made reference to China, and he made reference to the Koreans as countries who have done exceedingly well in terms of ensuring some kind of order and lawfulness in that area," Charamba said in comments carried by the state-run Chronicle

Social media has emerged as a platform for robust criticism of Mugabe’s government. But last month Chinamasa and other senior officials said "fake news" on local social media sites triggered panic buying and some shortages of food and fuel.

Freedom of expression

Meanwhile, the local chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) warned that recent threats by Chinamasa to tighten controls on social media while he was still finance minister continued to have "chilling effects on the use of social media by the citizenry".

It said those threats went against constitutional rights to freedom of expression.

"Citizens have the right to freely express themselves online and offline," MISA said in a statement.

"The government should therefore ensure that the country has balanced and effective cyber security measures in place to protect public and national interests while observing the country’s bill of rights."

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