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A draft "spying" law that would allow the government to intercept mail, phone calls and emails without having to get court approval was passed last week by the Zimbabwean House of Assembly, report the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF).

The controversial Interception of Communications Bill was passed on 13 June without amendments, despite fears by the opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) that it will be used to further prosecute government critics, reports MISA. According to news reports, the government insists that the goal is to bring anti-terrorism legislation into line with international practice.

"The fight against terrorism is constantly used by oppressive regimes as a pretext for cracking down on freedoms," says RSF. "If adopted, the law will expose journalists, NGOs and human rights activists to the possibility of being accused of representing a threat to national security."

Under the bill, service providers will be forced to install "enabling equipment" on behalf of the government, which would allow senior intelligence, police and revenue officials to intercept telephone, email and cell phone messages through a newly created central monitoring agency.

MISA believes the telecommunication sector will also be seriously compromised, as the "Internet service providers will have to bear high costs to install the enabling spying equipment in a country that is experiencing acute foreign currency shortages."

According to RSF, the government submitted a similar bill to parliament last year but withdrew it after protests from national and international organisations.

The press freedom groups are appealing for the bill to be rejected by the Senate, where President Robert Mugabe's party also enjoys a comfortable majority.

Visit these links:
- RSF:
- "International Herald Tribune":
(19 June 2007)

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