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» » » Media freedom under severe strain in Southern Africa


…as Zimbabwe uses spyware to monitor telecoms

Moses Ziyambi

There seem to be consensus among countries in Southern Africa to stifle free speech and media freedom, making the need for vigilance all the more critical, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe director Tabani Moyo has said.

Speaking at a virtual meeting with members of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) recently, Moyo said there was a move towards repression of the media in the region.

“There is a regional consensus to throttle online expression as per the Maputo Resolution of Sadc Heads of State which saw the proliferation of fake news regulation in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, South Africa, Eswatini and Namibia.

He said there were several instances of violation of free expression and media freedom in many members of the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc).

“As we commemorate 30 years of the enactment of the Windhoek Declaration on a free press, we note an increased attack on journalists while they are doing their job. I bring to your attention the situation in Mozambique is quite fragile, and journalists that went to cover a certain province having been flown by government were attacked by insurgents, firing live ammunition thereby exposing them to great danger.

“Secondly, the Mozambique as a government must be brought to account for a journalist who has gone missing for more than a year now; Ibrahim Braco. The last text message he sent was that he had been surrounded by soldiers. As we speak, he is yet to return,” Moyo said.

He said in the year 2020, a total of 52 cases attacks and imprisonment of journalists had been recorded in Zimbabwe.

“Journalists like Hopewell Chin’ono have been arrested twice for investigative work while Mduduzi Mathuthu is undercover after having exposed the challenges pertaining to corruption including (by) the members of the first family,” Moyo said.

He also said privacy rights were getting increasingly under attack as governments increased their attempts to control what people do and say on the cyberspace.

 “The right to privacy is under attack in Southern Africa specifically Zambia has enacted the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act which ha chilling effects of expression, media and access to information. Zimbabwe is in the process of doing the same; the bill is currently in parliament and both the bill (in Zimbabwe) and the act in Zambia fall below the bar defined by the principles of the declaration as per revisions of freedom of expression and access to information of the ACHPR.

“Recently, Zimbabwe also enacted an executive order SI 95 of 2021 called Telecommunication Traffic Monitoring Systems Regulations that intensifies monitoring of voice calls without judicial oversight, without any mechanism of ensuring that the right to privacy by all means is upheld as defined by the ACHPR frameworks,” he said.

On the use of software to monitor people’s telecommunications, Moyo said this was being done in a manner which largely ignored fundamental rights.

“The other issue is the procurement and use of spyware by governments in Southern Africa. A recent study by the University of Toronto Lab, dictated that there are three Southern African countries namely Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia that are applying the Circles spyware that compromises the right to privacy of mobile phones and telecommunications without any frameworks being in place. And these by the way, also violate the framework as defined by the declaration as per its revision.

“There is a rise in the number of laws that are emerging in Southern Africa that violate the framework of the commission namely Zimbabwe revising broadcasting regulations, Zambia enacting media practitioners laws; the same with Botswana all these fall far short of the standards set by the framework,” said Moyo.

He urged the commission to do more to hold to account member states that trampled rights to free speech and privacy through unmitigated deployment of spyware and attacks on the media.

“The Commission brings to account members of the Sadc community that are attacking journalists to ensure that the safety and security of journalists is paramount at any given moment.

“The regulation of cyber security and data protection is in sync with the framework of the Commission. The media should be considered as a strategic partner in the development agenda of the Southern Africa region. Take a stand against member states that are promulgating laws that are in violation of the right to privacy and rights to expression as defined in the regulations.

“There are five members states of Sadc that are going for elections; the media will be under attack, will be under siege in Angola, South Africa, Zambaia, Madagascar and Mauritius,” Moyo said,






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