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EPIC --- Privacy and Human Rights Report

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EPIC --- Privacy and Human Rights Report 2006

Title Page Previous Next Contents | Country Reports >Zimbabwe


Constitutional Privacy Framework

The constitution of Zimbabwe provides for a right of privacy. Article 17 (“Protection from arbitrary search or entry”) states, “(1) Except with his own consent or by way of parental discipline, no person shall be subjected to the search of his person or his property or the entry by others on his premises.”[5803] However they are limitations on this right. Article 17 also states, “(2) (2) Nothing contained in or done under the authority of any law shall be held to be in contravention of subsection (1) to the extent that the law in question makes provision— (a) in the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health or town and country planning; (b) without derogation from the generality of the provisions of paragraph (a), for the enforcement of the law in circumstances where there are reasonable grounds for believing that the search or entry is necessary for the prevention, investigation or detection of a criminal offence, for the seizure of any property which is the subject-matter of a criminal offence or evidence relating to a criminal offence, for the lawful arrest of a person or for the enforcement of any tax or rate; (c) for the purposes of a law which provides for the taking of possession or acquisition of any property or interest or right therein and which is not in contravention of section 16; (d) for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons; (e) that authorises any local authority or any body corporate established directly by or under an Act of Parliament for a public purpose to enter on the premises of any person in order to inspect those premises or anything thereon for the purpose of any tax or rate or in order to carry out work connected with any property of that authority or body which is lawfully on those premises; or (f) that authorises, for the purpose of enforcing the judgement or order of a court in any civil proceedings, the search of any person or property by order of a court or the entry upon any premises by such order; except so far as that provision or, as the case may be, the thing done under the authority thereof is shown not to be reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.[5804]

Article 17 further provides a significant right with respect to women, “(3) A law referred to in subsection (2) which makes provision for the search of the person of a woman shall require that such search shall, unless made by a medical practitioner, only be made by a woman and shall be conducted with strict regard to decency.”[5805]

Statutory Rules Related to Privacy

In 2003, Zimbabwe adopted the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA);[5806] however, the Act has come under widespread criticism from media organizations and NGOs. The law established penalties for journalists and limited critical reporting of the government. Under the AIPPA, journalists can be sentenced for up to two years in prison for practicing journalism without a license.

Recent Developments

In August 2007, the president signed into law the controversial Interception of Communications Act, which gives his government the authority to eavesdrop on phone, Internet and other electronic communications and read physical mail.[5807] The Act also requires communication services providers to facilitate the interception and storage of private communications at the government's request.[5808]

The Communications Minister can issue warrants for interception, and police, security and revenue service heads can apply to the Minister to issue warrants. The request must include the name of the target, and can be ordered in cases of perceived crime or security threats. The warrants are valid for three months and can be extended indefinitely. The law also establishes a state-run communications monitoring centre, from which all interception activities will be conducted. Internet Service Providers must install monitoring hardware and software at their own expense. The right of appeal is to the Communications Minister, not to the courts, and appellants have one month after notification or discovery of interception, whichever comes first, to launch an appeal. However, the law does not require law enforcement to notify targets of the interception.[5809]

Officials say the new law is meant to provide security and prevent crime.[5810] Communications Minister Christopher Mushowe said the new law was similar to anti-terror laws elsewhere such as in the UK, US and South Africa, stating that "[t]hese are countries which are regarded as the beacons of democracy." Critics say the bill’s anti-terror language is disingenuous and that the law will be used against trade unions, civil society, media and political parties involved in genuine political engagements, and to stifle opposition to the President.[5811]

China is supplying some of its web-monitoring technology to the Zimbabwean government, and reports state that Chinese technology is already being used to block independent radio station broadcasts.[5812]

NGO Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights is considering challenging the legislation in court. Zimbabwe's Supreme Court had previously ruled unconstitutional similar legislation when it struck down in 2004 the Posts and Telecommunications Act, according to news reports.[5813]

International Obligations

Zimbabwe is a member of the United Nations.[5814] Zimbabwe ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on August 31, 1991.[5815]

[5803] National Constitutional Assembly, Constitution of Zimbabwe, [As amended to No.16 of 20 April 2000], available at <>. See also Constitution of Zimbabwe, [Incorporating all amendments as of February 1, 2007], available at <>; see also The NGO Network Alliance Project - an online community for Zimbabwean activists <>.
[5804] Id.

[5805] Id.

[5806], “Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) - showing amendments just approved by Parliament, June 11, 2003,” available at <>.

[5807] Interception of Communications Bill, available at <>.
[5808] Michael Sung, “Zimbabwe president approves controversial electronic surveillance bill,” Jurist Legal News and Research, August 6, 2007 <>.

[5809] Interception of Communications Bill, supra.

[5810] “Mugabe approves surveillance law,” BBC News, August 4, 2007, available at <>.
[5811] “Zimbabwe passes net bugging law,” BBC News, June 14, 2007, available at <>.

[5812] Reporters without Borders <>.

[5813] “Zimbabwe: Sweeping Surveillance Law to Target 'Imperialist-Sponsored Journalists',”, August 9, 2007 <>.

[5814] Joined August 25, 1980.
[5815] <>.

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