Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution provides for freedoms of expression and of the media, but the law limits these freedoms in the “interest of defense, public security or professional confidentiality, to the extent that the restriction is fair, reasonable, necessary and justifiable in a democratic society based on openness, justice, human dignity, equality and freedom.” The government continued to arrest, detain, and harass critics, and journalists practiced self-censorship.
Freedom of Expression: There were no official restrictions on individuals criticizing the government or discussing matters of general public interest. Authorities, however, remained sensitive to criticism in general, particularly when directed at President Mnangagwa. Persons accused of insulting the president and his office are charged under section 33 (2) (b) of the criminal law (Codification and Reform Act), undermining authority of or insulting a president, but this was contested in the Supreme Court on the basis that the section infringed on the right to freedom of expression. The court did not make a final determination on its constitutionality, however, and the law remained in force. On August 28, the ZLHR reported assisting 10 individuals charged under the law since January. Additionally, 22 activists or government critics were charged with violating other sections of the same law for attempting to subvert a constitutionally elected government or criminal nuisance.
In February, Tendai Biti, former finance minister and senior official of the MDC, the largest opposition party, was convicted and fined 200 RTGS ($15) for unlawfully announcing that MDC leader Nelson Chamisa had won the 2018 presidential election over ZANU-PF candidate Emmerson Mnangagwa. According to the decision, Biti’s announcement was “false and unlawful.”
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent newspapers and commercial radio stations were active and expressed a wide variety of views, although with some restrictions. State-sponsored media, however, were the most prevalent. The Ministry of Media, Information, Publicity, and Broadcasting Services exercised control over state-run media.
Independent newspapers continued to operate freely, although journalists reported practicing self-censorship.
On April 4, police intentionally shot three teargas canisters into the offices of a local media organization, @263Chat, in Harare and then barricaded the doors, preventing staff from exiting. Lovejoy Mutongwiza, a reporter with @263Chat, had been filming the police arresting vendors. Police officers chased him to the media outlet’s offices and then fired a teargas canister directly at Mutongwiza, striking him in the abdomen. Two other canisters were thrown into the offices while police officers barricaded the doors. The @263Chat staff fled the offices through second floor windows. Police also confiscated a mobile phone used to record the attack.
On March 21, police arrested documentary filmmaker Zenzele Ndebele and charged him with “possession of offensive weapons at public gatherings.” Security officers claimed they found an empty tear gas canister in the journalist’s car when he arrived for a meeting between President Emmerson Mnangagwa and civil society organizations in Bulawayo.
The government used accreditation laws to monitor international media journalists’ entry into the country. The government required foreign journalists to obtain permits 60 days before travelling to the country in order to report from the country.
Foreign reporters paid more for permits and accreditation than did their local counterparts. The Zimbabwe Media Commission charged 200 RTGS ($15) for a foreigner’s 60-day accreditation, while local journalists paid 10 RTGS dollars ($0.63) for a one-year accreditation.
On January 29, state media criticized foreign media after President Mnangagwa stated he was “appalled” by an attack by the British station Sky News broadcast of Zimbabwe security officials attacking a protester. The Herald newspaper reported authorities were worried about “surreptitious reporting by Sky News and company.” It alleged a Western embassy was working with local media to besmirch the country and accused the television station of “manufacturing” stories about police brutality. It quoted Information Ministry Permanent Secretary Nick Mangwana as stating the journalist who reported the story did not have accreditation to work in the country.
International media outlets such as al-Jazeera and the BBC continued to operate in the country.
Radio remained the principal medium of public communication, particularly for the rural majority. All urban commercial radio stations licensed in 2015 were operating during the year. Despite their perceived allegiance to ZANU-PF, these stations included independent voices in their programming. The government did not license any community radio stations during the year.
The government-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC)–the country’s only domestically based television broadcasting station–operated one channel. International satellite television broadcasts were available through private firms but were too expensive for most citizens.
On July 23, High Court Judge Justice Joseph Mafusire ruled the state-controlled ZBC and Zimbabwe Newspapers Group (also known as Zimpapers) had, during the 2018 election campaign, “conducted themselves in material breach of section 61 of the constitution,” which governs freedom of expression and freedom of the media. The judge ordered the two organizations to produce impartial and independent broadcasts and ensure communications did not favor any political party or candidate over another.
Violence and Harassment: Security forces, officials, and supporters from the majority political party routinely harassed journalists.
On January 17, police arrested and detained Gift Phiri, an editor with the Daily News newspaper, for reporting that members of the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) assaulted delivery drivers as they left Harare to distribute the newspaper. The ZNA accused them of writing negative stories about the government. The incident occurred after the government crackdown on the public, following protests in Harare and Bulawayo the same week.
On August 16, police assaulted local journalist Talkmore Fani Mapfumo for filming police officers dispersing protesters in Harare. Video footage showed officers in full antiriot gear charging toward Mapfumo and demanding that he stop filming. The journalist produced his accreditation card, but the officers took turns assaulting him with batons.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government maintained censorship through media registration and accreditation laws, although many provisions of the law are inconsistent with the constitution. The law provides the government with extensive powers to control media and suppress free speech by requiring the registration of journalists and prohibiting the “abuse of free expression.” Government-controlled media practiced self-censorship and bias in favor of the ruling party.
In February independent media research organization Media Monitors published a report, Change of Guard, alleging the country’s military takeover of ZBC in 2017 still had a chilling effect on ZBC operations, a government-controlled broadcaster.
Libel/Slander Laws: The Constitutional Court ruled the constitution prohibits criminal defamation. Civil defamation laws remained in force.
Newspapers exercised self-censorship due to government intimidation and the prospect of prosecution under civil libel laws.
On March 12, police detained Tinashe Jonasi, leader of Ideal Zimbabwe political party, for undermining the authority of or insulting President Mnangagwa. On April 3, the High Court freed him on 500 RTGS dollars ($30) bail and ordered him to report twice a week at a police station.
National Security: The law grants the government a wide range of legal powers to prosecute persons for political and security crimes that are not clearly defined. For example, the extremely broad Official Secrets Act criminalizes the divulging of any information acquired by government employees in the course of official duties. Authorities used these laws to restrict publication of information critical of government policies or public officials.
The law permits the government to monitor all communications in the country, including internet transmissions. Internet and mobile phone communication in the country was widely available. The government, however, regulated internet and mobile phone communication to curb dissent and increased its share of the information and communications technology market and international gateways.
In mid-January the government used the Interception of Communications Act to suspend internet access for three days. On January 21, a High Court ruling declared the directive illegal. The government allowed internet service providers to increase fees, which limited internet access.
The government regularly monitored and interfered with use of social media. On August 15, police arrested human rights activist Pride Mkono for tweeting “Fellow Zimbabweans, let us all join hands and fight the regime head on…until the government concedes to our demands or leaves office.” Mkono was charged with subverting a constitutional government. On August 23, a High Court justice freed Mkono on 200 RTGS dollars ($15) bail with reporting conditions. The case remained pending as of year’s end.
The communications laws facilitated eavesdropping and call interception by state security personnel. The law allows law enforcement officers to apply to the responsible minister for a warrant authorizing them to intercept communications, including calls, emails, and other messages. Regulations permit officers to apply for interception warrants if they know the identities of individuals whose calls and messages they want to intercept.
The government did not restrict academic freedom during the year; however, the law restricts the independence of universities, subjecting them to government influence and providing disciplinary powers over staff and students to university authorities. The country’s president is the chancellor of all eight state-run universities and appoints their vice chancellors. The government has oversight of higher education policy at public universities through the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education.
On June 27, Harare Polytechnic suspended Amos Dauzeni, a lecturer in the tourism department, for criticizing the president, according to ZLHR. The lecturer was accused of “misconduct for allegedly denigrating President Mnangagwa by stating he had mismanaged the country’s economy, resulting in the payment of poor salaries to government workers.”
The Censorship and Entertainment Controls Board (CECB) approves scripts by playwrights. Artists who violated provisions of the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act (CECA) received fines and prison sentences.
On July 27, police raided the offices of Rooftop Promotions; on July 28, they arrested director Daves Guzha, theater manager Peter Churu, producer Tendai Humbasha Maduwa, and scriptwriter Kudakwashe Brian Bwititi after they showed the film The Lord of Kush without CECB approval, allegedly in contravention of the CECA. Magistrate Barbra Mateko freed each artist on bail of 200 RTGS dollars ($15) and postponed the case repeatedly. The next hearing was set for January 6, 2020. Information Ministry Permanent Secretary Nick Mangwana told media the film, which is set in Pakistan and deals with religious fundamentalism, had “security implications for a foreign power.”
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government restricted these rights.
The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, or both. In August parliament passed the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act (MOPA) to replace the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), and President Mnangagwa signed it into law in November. MOPA, like POSA, requires organizers to notify police of their intention to hold a public gathering, defined as 15 or more individuals, seven days in advance. Failure to do so may result in criminal prosecution as well as civil liability. The law allows police to prohibit a gathering based on security concerns but requires police to file an affidavit in a magistrate’s court stating the reasons behind the denial. MOPA stipulates the government must respond to notifications to demonstrate within three days, whereas POSA provided no time limit. By year’s end MOPA had been invoked to restrict free peaceful assembly in a manner similar to POSA.
Although many groups did not seek permits, other groups informed police of their planned events, and police either denied permission or gave no response. Police issued prohibition orders against dozens of planned, nationwide MDC demonstrations in August, citing reasonable suspicion the protests would result in violence and property damage. Police also charged the MDC national organizing secretary and deputy secretary for violating POSA’s clause about complying with a prohibition order when protesters gathered in downtown Harare on August 16, despite the ZRP’s last-minute prohibition.
Authorities often denied requests by civil society, trade unions, religious groups, or political parties other than ZANU-PF to hold public events if the agenda conflicted with government policy positions. A small group of persons, however, protesting U.S. sanctions received a permit to camp in front of the U.S. embassy in Harare from March to September.
On August 23, police forcibly dispersed a small protest by the ARTUZ at the Ministry of Finance building in Harare. The ZRP arrested the union’s president, Obert Masaraure, and seven other members, as well as ARTUZ attorney Doug Coltart, after he protested the arrests and filmed police actions.
In late November police used batons and tear gas to disperse groups of citizens who had gathered downtown to listen to a speech by MDC leader Nelson Chamisa.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, but the government restricted this right. Although the government did not restrict the formation of political parties or unions, ZANU-PF supporters, sometimes with government support or acquiescence, intimidated and harassed members of organizations perceived to be associated with other political parties. For example, a Bulawayo-based NGO reported that on August 30, police used tear gas to break up a training session it held for its members, claiming it was “unsanctioned.” Local NGOs provided multiple similar reports.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government restricted these rights.
In-country Movement: Police interrupted freedom of movement with checkpoints less frequently than in 2018 but continued to operate regular checkpoints nationwide along most major routes. They used these checkpoints to screen vehicle occupants for potential participation in antigovernment protests.
Foreign Travel: The constitution provides the right for citizens to enter and leave the country and the right to a passport or other travel documents. In July the government announced a shortage of special imported paper and ink supplies used to make passports. The Office of the Registrar General reported a 50,000-passport shortage in July, and applicants reported the office advised them to reapply in 2022.
In February the cabinet approved amendments to the Zimbabwe Citizenship Bill to allow dual citizenship as prescribed in the constitution. There were reports the Office of the Registrar General sometimes imposed administrative obstacles in the passport application process for dual citizens, particularly Malawian, Zambian, and Mozambican citizens.
In September the ZRP prohibited alleged abduction victim Peter Magombeyi from departing the country to seek medical care in South Africa. Magombeyi’s relatives obtained a High Court order allowing him to depart; ZRP officials defied this ruling and filed a petition to find the order erroneous. The High Court dismissed the ZRP’s petition. Magombeyi departed the country on September 26.
Exile: The constitution prohibits expulsion from the country for all citizens. A number of persons, including former government officials, prominent businessmen, human rights activists, opposition party members, and human rights lawyers, left the country and remained in self-imposed exile due to fear of persecution.
Citizenship: The 2013 constitution provides for three different classes of citizenship: by birth, by descent, or by registration. The government deprived some sections of the population of citizenship rights based on the law, which revokes the citizenship of persons who fail to return to the country in any five-year period.
Despite a constitutional provision of citizenship and having voted previously, some persons were denied the right to vote during the by-elections throughout the year because they could not adequately demonstrate their citizenship. An amendment to the Citizenship Act aligned the law with the 2013 constitution to allow dual citizenship beginning February 27.
According to international organizations, approximately 113,000 households were displaced and more than 250 groups of identified internally displaced persons (IDPs) lived throughout the country. The primary causes of displacement were rural evictions (45.7 percent), natural disasters (27.7 percent), localized conflict (13.3 percent), and urban evictions (13.1 percent). The most significant historical events that created internal displacement included state-sponsored election-related violence, land reform, and the government’s eviction of citizens from nonfarming areas in 2005, known as Operation Murambatsvina. According to one NGO, Operation Murambatsvina resulted in the destruction of homes and livelihoods affecting an estimated 700,000 persons. Until 2009 the government denied the existence of any IDPs.
In March, Cyclone Idai displaced hundreds of persons in Chimanimani. Approximately 800 were housed in three IDP camps, where shelter, security, and cooking facilities were inadequate. Government officials anticipated the camps would remain in place until April 2021.
In 2014 approximately 15,000 persons were displaced from the vicinity of the Tokwe-Mukosi dam in Masvingo Province. Other documented displacements were from disputed farming areas. At year’s end several thousand households in disputed farming areas were at risk of displacement due to verifiable threats or eviction notices. Most of the persons displaced had resided on their land for years without formal offer letters or title deeds. The government provided no resettlement assistance to evicted families and depended primarily on international organizations to do so.
IDPs from previous years remained in near-emergency conditions, with an overwhelming majority living without basic sanitation. IDPs were among the populations at greatest risk of food insecurity. In addition to improved living conditions, IDPs required regularization of their status. Without needing any official documentation, several generations of farm workers originally from neighboring countries previously resided in insular commercial farming communities. With the eviction of farm owners, these farm workers were forced to move to adjacent communal lands and left without employment or health and education services.
Contractors and NGOs independent of the government that carried out food security and other assessments faced problems in accessing certain rural districts. In isolated cases local authorities advised organizations against traveling to farms involved in ownership disputes, where aid workers might be at risk.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Security forces detained irregular migrants in prisons with convicted criminals. Prolonged detention for migrants was common. Migrants complained of mistreatment by other prisoners. The government sometimes worked with international organizations to assist the voluntary repatriation of migrants, primarily Mozambicans settled on the border between the two countries.
There were no reports of physical abuse or violence directed specifically at migrants, refugee or asylum seekers, or stateless persons. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. According to UNHCR, the country hosted approximately 21,000 refugees and asylum seekers during the year. The Tongogara refugee camp hosted approximately 13,700 refugees and asylum seekers, with an estimated 100 arrivals each month, primarily from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, and Burundi.
Freedom of Movement: The government maintained a formal encampment policy requiring refugees to live at the Tongogara refugee camp. Nevertheless, at year’s end more than 840 refugees lived in urban areas, including Harare and Bulawayo, and more than 8,080 Mozambican asylum seekers lived among host communities along the border with Mozambique.
Employment: Refugees in the informal sector had limited employment options due to the encampment policy requiring all refugees to reside in the Tongogara refugee camp. UNHCR partners and Julia Taft Fund grant recipients continued to set up banana farming, livestock production, and soap production for livelihood activities in the camp.
Durable Solutions: While the government did not accept refugees from foreign countries for resettlement, it facilitated the voluntary repatriation of refugees to their home countries by recognizing the Voluntary Repatriation Declaration Form as a valid document for travel purposes. The government also allowed Rwandan refugees, who lost prima facie refugee status following implementation of the 2013 Rwandan cessation clause, to remain in the country pending final arrangements by the government. Additionally, the Office of the Commissioner for Refugees stated that Rwandans with Zimbabwean spouses would be permitted to regularize their stay in the country. Many refugees were unwilling to return to their home countries voluntarily, and resettlement remained the only viable solution for many of them.
The country has a significant number of habitual residents who are legally or de facto stateless. In 2015 international organizations estimated a minimum of 300,000 persons in the country were stateless. No more recent data was available. Migration patterns, strict nationality transmission regulations, and failure to register births contributed to the country’s stateless population. (Children born between 1980 and 1996 to a Zimbabwean mother but a father without Zimbabwean citizenship cannot claim Zimbabwean citizenship unless they were born out of wedlock. The United Nations estimated only 74 percent of births were registered in the country.)