Publishing identities of members of security services, including names of confidential informants and sources, will soon be criminalised under new provisions that will be added to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, adopted by Cabinet last week.
Cabinet approved seven broad amendments to the law which make unauthorised private negotiations of a foreign relations nature between citizens and foreign governments illegal.
Making false statements with the intention of influencing any dispute between Zimbabwe and a foreign government will also be outlawed.
The proposed amendments seek to broaden criminal acts against the State.
A memorandum on principles of the proposed amendments tabled in Cabinet by Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi recommending the changes effectively vests negotiations with foreign governments solely under the exclusive ambit of the State.
Minister Ziyambi told The Sunday Mail that Government had elected to introduce the changes through amending an already existing law instead of crafting a new one, which could take longer.
“It is easier (to amend an existing law) because in the code we already have crimes against the State and this is one of them,” said Minister Ziyambi.
Legislation to protect the identities of security services personnel is common in most jurisdictions, including the United States.
The US Congress passed the Intelligence Identities Protection Act in 1982, which criminalises the unauthorised disclosure of information that exposes covert US intelligence agents.
The law was passed in response to concerns of members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees “about the systematic effort by a small group of Americans, including some former intelligence agency employees, to disclose the names of covert intelligence agents”.
The Act prescribes punishment for disclosing the identities of covert agents with increasing severity according to the level of access to classified information the offender exploited.
The country could soon have a similarly crafted law once amendments sail through Parliament and are signed into law by the President.
“In the process of reviewing the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, it has been further identified that the current provisions do not cater for the protection from publication of the identity of members the security services, including informants and sources,” reads the Cabinet memorandum in part.
“Furthermore, it is proposed that Section 30 be amended to include the act of publication of the identity of members of the security services, including that of informants and sources as an offence of causing disaffection of officials.
“It is further proposed that “informants” and “sources” also be defined in terms of the Act.”
Some political activists have of late been using social media to publish the identities of security services personnel to suit their political agenda.
Justifying the proposed changes in the memorandum, Minister Ziyambi said the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961) only recognises states as legitimate players in foreign relations and negotiations.
He argued that some private citizens were wilfully misinforming foreign governments in order to gain self-favour and discredit the Government.
Citizens will, however, not be prohibited from seeking redress for harm suffered from foreign governments.
Reads the memorandum: “It is proposed that the Act be amended to include the following provisions which criminalise conduct that falls within the following broad categories: Unauthorised private negotiations engaged in by citizens of Zimbabwe with a foreign government which directly or indirectly relates to the country’s foreign relations and policy with other sovereign nations.
“The law should be restricted to private negotiations that impact on the promotion and protection of the national interests of Zimbabwe, including its foreign policy agenda, but not negotiations by citizens on matters of purely private commercial interests.”
Provisions of the new law would avoid taking away the rights of individual citizens seeking redress for harm suffered as a result of conduct by a foreign sovereign government, its agents or citizens.
Citizen’s involvement in State-level diplomacy, added Minister Ziyambi, was now a source of chaos to the national interest and undermines the country’s foreign policy agenda.
“Zimbabwe, as many other countries, has not been spared from the malaise of isolated citizens or groupings, cooperating or conniving with certain hostile foreign governments to inflict suffering on its citizens, Government and generally its national interests.
“These self-appointed individuals are not shy to speak with indecent haste against their own country on issues of foreign relations without bothering to verify facts or engage domestic authorities.
“A substantial number wilfully misinform foreign governments in order to gain self-favour and discredit the Government. . .
“What is absent in our law are specific provisions that prescribe or criminalise the unauthorised communication or negotiation by private citizens with foreign sovereign governments that have a direct or indirect implication on Zimbabwe’s foreign relations and policy.”
Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs chairperson Mr Misheck Mataranyika said the law will engender patriotism.
“It is a delayed law, honestly, because it is an inherent thing that everyone should be patriotic to their country,” said Mr Mataranyika.
“If someone calls for the imposition of sanctions then they should be punished accordingly.”
Having noted the diplomatic chaos that comes with private citizens having unauthorised negotiations with foreign governments, the US government passed the Logan Act in 1799.
It specifically prohibits citizens from negotiating with other nations on behalf of the United States without authorisation and makes it a crime for a citizen to confer with foreign governments against the interests of the United States.
Several local opposition politicians and prominent civil society leaders have often been accused of engaging hostile foreign governments to adopt an antagonistic posture towards Harare.
The United States government unilaterally imposed harsh economic sanctions on Zimbabwe at the turn of the millennium at the instigation of leaders in the opposition and civic society.
The sanctions, which have continued to be renewed annually, have wreaked havoc on the country’s economy, with Zimbabwe now ineligible for balance of payment support and affordable loans from international finance institutions.
Some opposition leaders have become permanent features at the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, where they constantly campaign for further sanctions against the country.
Whistleblower website — Wikileaks — has also outed dalliances between some local politicians and officials at the US embassy in Harare, with one politician requesting US military intervention in Zimbabwe in order to facilitate an illegal change of Government.