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Rights lawyers challenge Zimbabwe internet shutdown

by Staff Reporter
19 Jan 2019 at 08:46hrs | Views
ZIMBABWE Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), in conjunction with the Media Institute of Southern Africa-Zimbabwe chapter (Misa-Zimbabwe), has petitioned the High Court seeking an order to compel all the country's Internet service providers to restore services following the directive by government to withdraw provision of Internet and other communication services in the country.

The two groups filed the urgent chamber application on Wednesday, citing State Security minister Owen Ncube, Central Intelligence OrganisationDirector-General Isaac Moyo, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Econet Wireless, NetOne, Telecel Zimbabwe and the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe as respondents.

In her founding affidavit, ZLHR executive director Roselyn Hanzi criticised the move by the government directing all mobile telecommunication operators to shut down Internet services.

"The Constitution is very clear in section 61 that every person has the right to freedom of expression, which includes the freedom to seek, receive and communicate ideas and other information. The same Constitution also provides for freedom of artistic expression and scientific research and creativity, as well as academic freedom," Hanzi said.

"Pursuant to this warrant, and throughout the entirety of Zimbabwe, Internet services have shut down. The net effect of this is that ordinary citizens have not been able to access their email, has not been able to go on the Internet, have not been able to use social media such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snap Chat and YouTube, to name a few."

ZLHR further said ordinary citizens in the country had also not been able to use Internet-based platforms of communication such as email and WhatsApp and other forms.

"For business operations, students, hospitals and scholars, the shutdown is having catastrophic effect. Businesses which operate on the basis of the
Internet in accessing their bank accounts, in communicating locally and internationally through email have, in fact, been shut down," Hanzi said, adding that the shutting down of the Internet had effectively denied the majority of citizens the right to communication.

"Thus, the consequence of the directive to shutdown Internet access has had far reaching implications. Natural and juristic persons have been affected as a result of the sudden and unexpected unlawful suspension (shutdown) of Internet services in Zimbabwe with effect from January 14, 2019 … The directive will unnecessarily cost some people significant amounts of money in loss of business and income. "

Hanzi further said the personal security of people in the country had also been compromised as they were also unable to efficiently communicate using the popular social media platforms to alert each other of the security situations in their respective areas as well as sharing other issues of public interest and concern, such as the availability of essential services and products.

"In broad terms, the directive does not promote the values and principles that underline a democratic society based on openness, good governance, justice, rule of law and fundamental human rights and freedoms to enable people to enjoy prosperous, happy and fulfilling lives as envisaged in the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No 20)," she said.

"… The decision to compel Internet service providers to suspend Internet services in Zimbabwe is also questionable in that there is no public emergency necessitating the limitations of fundamental rights and freedoms."
The matter will be heard in court on Monday.

Source - NewsDay