‘Stop Spying On Us’, NGOs Warn Govt

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By James Muonwa

THE rights of social media users in Zimbabwe are set to be violated if the government goes ahead with its plans to snoop on what citizens send and receive, particularly on the WhatsApp platform.

The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC) says it is rattled by plans by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to restrict freedom of speech and expression through the deployment of a cyber team to monitor citizens on social media.

Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa this week announced the government had set up a cyber security team to “monitor what people send and receive” on social media platforms.

This comes when the Cyber Security and Data Protection Bill, which passed through the Senate in July 2021 is now awaiting presidential assent.

CiZC spokesperson Marvelous Kumalo said; “The recent move by the government to set up a cyber security team to monitor the citizens on social media amounts to an invasion of privacy and is basically meant to instill fear in the public while limiting freedom of speech and expression.”

Kumalo said Mutsvangwa’s sentiments that the move does not amount to regulation of social media were a ploy to cover up for the government’s real motive to limit fundamental freedoms and the clampdown on dissenting voices.

He added; “Over the years, human rights defenders, journalists, and opposition activists have been victimised based on their posts on social media and the latest move by the government will only serve to further fuel victimisation of dissenting voices.

“We note with concern that the ruling party, Zanu PF continues to use harsh cyber laws to entrench political power while at the same time coming up with a raft of measures to restrict free speech, right of privacy, and access to information.”

Massive surveillance by the government, Kumalo said, will infringe on fundamental human rights and lead to an upsurge in cases of clampdowns on pro-democracy activists.

“We are concerned that the move by the government lacks a pro-human rights approach and is essentially meant to entrench political power through snooping on citizens and clamping down on dissenting voices.”

Kumalo said the move by the government would further shrink the democratic space in Zimbabwe and violate the citizens’ fundamental rights.

“Social media has proved to be an effective tool in exposing rights abuses as well as corruption and the government’s recent move must be seen as an attempt to instill fear and silence whistleblowers,” Kumalo said.

Kumalo said the government had a bad human rights record and perpetrated victimisation of activists based on their posts on social media.

An independent body should be set up to monitor activities on social media rather than making it the sole responsibility of the government, Kumalo said.

The CiZC is on record of criticising the proposed law for seeking to snoop on citizens, thereby violating the right to privacy, freedom of speech as well as access to information.