14 December 2018

Zimbabwe: Social Media Abusers Must Face Law - Govt

Government yesterday warned Zimbabweans not to abuse the freedom they have by attacking other people on social media and peddling lies bent on causing mayhem and anarchy. There are growing calls for laws that make it a requirement for people to be vetted before being allowed to use social media.

Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage Minister Cain Mathema said most people had developed a "disease" of attacking other people on social media.

"That is why in Britain and the United States they are crafting laws to control the use of social media. Those attacking others through social media must not be allowed to do so willy-nilly. That is unhealthy. They must stop doing that.

"It is freedom that most people are abusing. Don't use social media to attack other people that is totally unacceptable and it's horrible. It is a disease that is developing among our people and I think our courts should do more to protect us as citizens," Minister Mathema said.

A legal expert who spoke on condition of anonymity said responsible authorities should be aware of a legal vacuum that is there when it comes to social media.

"This is the largest publishing space but it has remained a lawless space where slander, incitement to violence and hate speech go unpunished," he said.

He said social media in Zimbabwe was mostly dominated by Diasporans and the law must allow for the prosecution of people based on the comments they have made, even if they are outside the country.

"Freedom of expression does not mean a free for all where rogue elements, often hiding under the banner of activism, are free to infringe on the rights of others. The United Kingdom Communications Act 2003 defines illegal communication as 'using public electronic communications network in order to cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety' and carries a prison term for offenders.

"There is no way an academic Brilliant Mhlanga, resident in the United Kingdom, could call a British politician "fat but no brains", as he recently did to MDC-T spokesman Linda Masarira, and get away with it. He would be prosecuted. To say Linda Masarira @lilomatic is as round and shapeless as a worm, and naturally not gifted with looks and an empty head is nowhere close to gender-based violence. At best it's close to violating animal rights," the legal expert said.

A screenshot of comments by UK-based activist Davison Sedze went viral just after the July 30 elections in which he urged opposition supporters to fight "with sticks, stones and our bare hands" to force ZEC to announce the opposition MDC-Alliance candidate Nelson Chamisa as the winner of the presidential election.

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