MNOs restore full Internet services

By Staff reporter | 22 Jan 2019 at 15:58hrs
THE High Court in Harare yesterday ruled that National Security Minister Owen Ncube had no authority to order a shutdown of Internet services.

Service providers immediately restored services.

Internet was shut down last week when the authorities felt it was being abused to stoke violent protests in Harare and other cities.

High Court Judge Justice Owen Tagu held that Statutory Instrument 212 /18 as read with Section 104 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe reserved the administration of the Interceptions of Telecommunications Act for the President. To that end, the President was the only authority empowered by law to direct Internet shutdown whenever it is necessary, he said.

"From the preliminary arguments, it is clear that the minister had no authority to issue such a directive as he is not the one in charge of the administration of the Act. I will only grant the first relief that the directive is hereby set aside," said Justice Tagu.

The judge made the ruling in a case in which Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Right (ZLHR) and the Media Institute for Southern Africa contested the constitutionality of the directive.

The minister, in his opposing affidavit, stated that he was the one who issued the directives. Lawyers representing the Government had sought postponement of the case to take instructions from President Mnangagwa on his return from Eurasia. The lawyers wanted to find out if the President had not delegated his powers to Minister Ncube. But the judge issued an interim relief in favour of the two applicants.

Justice Tagu, however, did not rule on the constitutionality of the law in directing Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (PORTAZ) to shut down the internet.

The minister between January 15 and 18 issued directives for a shutdown of Internet services at the height of the violent protests last week.

President Mnangagwa, Minister of State in the President's Office for National Security Owen Ncube, Director-General of Intelligence Services, POTRAZ, Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, NetOne Cellular Private Limited and Telecel Zimbabwe, were listed as respondents in the application.

Zimbabwe chapter (Misa-Zimbabwe), petitioned the High Court seeking an order to compel all the country's Internet service providers to restore services following the government's directive to withdraw provision of Internet and other communication services in the country last week at the height of public protests due to collapsing state of the economy.

Advocate Eric Matinenga told journalists after the High Court ruling that according to the decision of the court, Ncube, in his capacity as State Security minister, had no powers to give a directive in terms of the Interception of Communication Act, as he was not in charge of that legislation, saying instead, only President Emmerson Mnangagwa could do so.

"The Interception of Communication Act is one of the 12 Acts directly administered by the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe. The President does have the right to assign any other Cabinet members to act on his behalf to administer any of these 12 Acts. However, in this case, the court agreed with us that the minister was not assigned with any authority to issue such directive by the President," Matinenga said.

The two groups jointly filed the urgent chamber application on Wednesday, citing Ncube, Central Intelligence Organisation director-general Isaac Moyo, Mnangagwa, Econet Wireless, NetOne, Telecel Zimbabwe and the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe as respondents.

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

But Matinenga said the judge did not go into the merits of the case, as he made the decision based on preliminary points.



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