By: Angus Shaw, Associated Press Writer
(AP) The embattled government of President Robert Mugabe suffered a major setback Tuesday when one of its own lawmakers attacked proposed legislation to gag the media. The attack raised the specter of a split in the ruling party.
Eddison Zvogbo, head of the parliament’s legal committee, described the media legislation as “the most calculated and determined assault” on the nation’s constitutional rights to free expression since independence from colonial rule two decades ago.
In a report read to the 150-seat parliament in Harare, the legal committee reminded lawmakers they had sworn an oath vowing to uphold the constitution, and recommended that they reject the proposed legislation.
Zvogbo, a founding member of the ruling party, said at least 20 clauses of the poposed legislation violate three sections of the constitution.
Parliament has the power to ignore the committee.
The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Bill would give the government and the information minister broad powers to license journalists, register media organizations under strict terms laid down by the state, and impose severe penalties for infringements.
It would set up a state-appointed media commission with disciplinary powers to withdraw licenses, confiscate equipment, and draw up charges against journalists with a penalty of up to two years in jail.
The bill also proposes banning foreign reporters from manning international media offices in Zimbabwe, which would have to be run by Zimbabwean citizens or immigrants with permanent residence status.
The bill was first raised in Parliament in December by Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, but failed to garner enough support to be passed.
Moyo, appointed a minister after parliamentary elections in 2000 the ruling party narrowly won, has become a close aide to Mugabe, angering many party veterans and raising the specter of a split over his burgeoning power in the ruling elite.
Amendments to the bill’s wording were proposed by the Justice Ministry earlier this month after the government admitted some of its provisions lacked clarity.
The main opposition accused the government of including the media curbs in a package of repressive laws to muzzle criticism ahead of presidential elections March 9-10 in which Mugabe, 77, is fighting for political survival after holding power since independence in 1980.
Zimbabwe has come under intense international pressure to restore the rule of law after nearly two years of often violent seizures of white-owned farms and to ensure free and fair presidential elections.
The European Union and the United States are proposing targeted sanctions against government leaders.