Zimbabwe

Planned Zimbabwean law to restrict criticism from NGOs

Harare (dpa) - The Zimbabwean government Friday published a controversial bill that will require non-governmental organizations to register and will effectively allow it to shut down organizations expressing criticism of President Robert Mugabe's policies.

Once passed by parliament, the Non-Governmental Organizations bill will require thousands of organizations, from human rights bodies and food-aid groups to church choir groups and dog clubs, to register with a government-controlled council.

The council, on which a member of the secret police sits, can refuse to register an organization and can cancel its registration at any time. Anyone who violates the proposed law faces a jail term of up to six months.

Non-governmental organizations involved in governance will be barred from receiving finance from abroad, and foreign NGOs whose work includes governance will be banned outright.

When Mugabe announced the bill on July 20, he said NGOs had to work for the betterment of the country, not against it. "We cannot allow them to be conduits for foreign interference,'' he said.

Civil liberties activist John Makumbe said the bill aimed to shut down all criticism of Mugabe's ZANU(PF) party.

"The Mugabe regime is desperate to reduce democratic space to a minimum, and to totally silence all voices that are not ZANU(PF),'' he said.

Jonah Mudehwe, director of the National Association of NGOs, which represents over 1 000 private associations, said: "The enactment of such a bill will do Zimbabwe more harm than good.''

"The bill criminalizes a sector that is providing social safety nets to communities throughout the country,'' he added. dpa jr rpm

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