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Amnesty condemns "repressive" legislation

Amnesty International (AI) has accused the Zimbabwean government of using "repressive" legislation to silence dissent, and perpetrate human rights violations.

In a report entitled "Zimbabwe: Rights Under Siege", released on 3 May to mark World Press Freedom Day, AI said the government had introduced and selectively used legislation as a vehicle for committing "widespread human rights violations" with impunity.

"Provisions of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the Private Voluntary Organizations (PVO) Act are examples of recently enacted legislation which contravene international human rights standards. The government of Zimbabwe has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR), both of which protect the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly," AI said in a statement.

It called on the government to cease "all intimidation, arbitrary arrests and torture of political opponents, independent media and human rights activists".

"In light of escalating state repression of fundamental human rights, Amnesty International is urging the international community, particularly southern African governments, to redouble their efforts to publicly signal to the Zimbabwean authorities that intimidation, arbitrary arrests and torture of government critics is unacceptable" the rights watchdog concluded.

The government, however, has dismissed the allegations. Defending the government's rights record, Steyn Berejena, senior press secretary in the Department of Information, on Monday insisted that "the people [local groups] that accuse the government of human rights violations are the very ones who undermine the rule of law."

He said the content of AIPPA, the government's controversial information law, "borrowed from the Western world, but because it is used by Zimbabwe, it's seen as draconian legislation."

Among its recommendations, the AI report said the government should issue invitations for fact-finding visits by the UN Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Opinion and Expression and on Torture, and the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders.

AI representative in South Africa, Samkelo Mokhine, said a "more direct role" by the United Nations was needed, given the lack of impact on the Zimbabwean crisis by the African Union and the Southern African Development Community.

UN Development Programme Resident Representative and Humanitarian Coordinator J. Victor Angelo told IRIN: "The UN is following the situation in Zimbabwe very closely and is certainly available to contribute to a way out of the present crisis."

The AI report is available at: http://web.amnesty.org

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