Peta Thornycroft, Johannesburg |
New legislation will allow Zimbabwe’s police to seize smartphones, laptops and other “gadgets” to prevent people from communicating via social media.
Several demonstrations and a one-day national strike were organised over social media. These outbreaks of unrest have unnerved President Robert Mugabe’s bankrupt government.
One twitter feed called #ThisFlag has coordinated many of the protests.
The regime is drafting a new law that will allow police to confiscate electronic equipment and raid broadband service providers. The “Computer Crime and Cyber Crime Bill” would empower police to intercept private communications, search and seize any “electronic gadgets,” and send any “abusers” to jail for five years.
The regime claims the new law will also help the extradition of Zimbabweans in other countries who use social media to organise protests at home.
General Philip Sibanda, the army commander, said the security forces were on “alert” to deal with any “cyber-based destabilisation” of Zimbabwe.
“We are training our officers to be able to deal with this new threat we call cyber warfare where weapons — not necessarily guns but basically information and communication technology — are being used to mobilise people to do the wrong things,” he said.
A part-time pastor, Evan Mawarire, launched #This Flag in April, and two months later his tweets encouraged a national strike.
He fled to South Africa after charges of treason were dropped against him in Harare. Mr Mawarire’s message, like so many others, is for Mr Mugabe, 92, to resign after 36 years in power.
Pro-democracy organisations in Zimbabwe say they will challenge the new law in court. “We haven’t had a chance to discuss this yet, but it will be fought,” said one who asked not to be named. The legislation is expected to go before parliament by the end of this year.
About half Zimbabwe’s adults now have access to the internet and most people have mobile phones.
Factbox | How Mugabe spends Zimbabwe’s money
Zimbabwe government spending 2015 (US$)
Presidential travel (foreign & domestic): $33.8 million
Capital items for secondary schools: $0
State residences: $6.6 million
Capital items for health service: $6 million
Presidential “hospitality”: $768,000
Capital items for primary schools: $0
Maintaining the President’s cars: $387,000
Capital items for universities: $17,700
Source: Blue Book, Zimbabwe finance ministry