Zimbabwe plans to repeal a draconian media law that was used by former strongman Robert Mugabe’s government to deport foreign journalists and shut down critical local media organisations.
The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) was enacted in 2002 at a time president Mugabe was under pressure from Western countries over human rights violations.
The law was used to ban international news outlets such as BBC and CNN from operating in Zimbabwe.
Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said on Tuesday that AIPPA would be replaced by three legal instruments – the proposed Access to Information Bill, Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill and Protection of Personal Information/Data Protection Bill.
“Cabinet noted that the proposed amendments are a fulfilment of the requirements to align the country’s laws to the Constitution and deepen the country’s democratic processes and accordingly approved the principles,” Ms Mutsvangwa said after a Cabinet meeting.
She said the draft laws would be tabled before parliament in the course of the year.
Zimbabwe adopted a new Constitution in 2013 but the government has been slow to align existing Acts to the new supreme law.
AIPPA has been criticised by media freedom campaigners for stifling freedom of expression.
When he took over power from Mr Mugabe in 2017, President Emmerson Mnangagwa pledged to promote freedom of expression. Mr Mugabe was ousted in a bloodless military coup.
However, the new leader’s commitment to implement reforms has been questioned in recent weeks following a deadly military crackdown against protesters.
On Tuesday, the United States issued a statement urging Mnangagwa’s government to deliver on its promises to bring economic reforms.
Washington said it was deeply concerned about alleged human rights violations by the security forces following the January 14 protests against fuel price increases.
“The United States remains seriously concerned about the excessive use of force by the government of Zimbabwe security forces since January 14, which has resulted in at least 14 deaths, 600 victims of violence, torture or rape, and more than 1,000 arrests,” read the statement by the US State Department.
“The government of Zimbabwe’s use of undue internet restrictions betray promises to create a new Zimbabwe.”
Washington also called for a “credible and inclusive” dialogue between the government and opposition, which would be “mediated by a neutral third party.”
President Mnangagwa at the weekend blamed Western countries of fuelling the protests to engineer regime change.