The bill has now been sent for President Emmerson Mnangagwa‘s assent, positioning it to become law in Zimbabwe.
The proposed legislation, also known as the Patriot Bill, successfully sailed through the National Assembly despite objections from opposition members.
The news was confirmed by Open Paly, a legislative watchdog, through a tweet: “The Senate has passed the Patriotic Bill. The Bill will be sent for Presidential assent to become a law.”
The controversial provisions of the bill aim to criminalize individuals found guilty of “wilfully damaging the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe.”
It seeks to amend the Criminal Code and penalize Zimbabwean citizens charged with activities that go against the country’s interests, including engaging in correspondence with foreign governments.
Among the penalties included in the bill are revocation of citizenship, prohibition from voter registration, and being unable to vote in elections for a minimum of five years.
Legal experts and human rights advocates have raised concerns, highlighting that some of the penalties infringe upon constitutional rights and appear designed to silence government critics, thereby shrinking the civic space ahead of the general elections scheduled for August 23, 2023.
Following the bill’s passage in the Lower House last week, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) expressed their objections, viewing the penalties as an attack on democratic and civic spaces.
ZLHR emphasized that “the penalty of prohibition of registration as a voter or voting at an election violates political rights” enshrined in the Constitution.
Opposition legislators from the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) also voiced their criticisms of the bill during parliamentary discussions.
They raised concerns about the potential consequences of the legislation, which was initially introduced by former Zanu PF secretary for youth affairs, Pupurai Togarepi, and now serves as the party’s chief whip.
The Patriotic Bill is one of several contentious pieces of legislation introduced by President Mnangagwa since assuming office following a military intervention in 2017.
Other laws, such as the Cyber Security Act, Constitutional Amendments 1 and 2, and the Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill, have also drawn significant attention and await the President’s signature.
As Zimbabwe awaits President Mnangagwa’s decision regarding the Patriotic Bill, the country finds itself engaged in a critical debate surrounding the balance between national interests and constitutional rights.
The outcome will have far-reaching implications for democratic practices and civic freedoms in Zimbabwe.