Zimbabwe internet shutdown judgment reserved

By Staff reporter | 25 Nov 2019 at 07:21hrs
HIGH Court judge Edith Mushore has reserved judgment in a case in which two civic society organisations sued President Emmerson Mnangagwa over the government's decision to shut down the Internet in January following a three-day stay-away called by labour unions.

Mushore, who heard the matter on Thursday, reserved ruling in the matter after hearing submissions from lawyers representing both parties.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) and the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa Zimbabwe chapter) are the applicants, while Sate Security minister Owen Ncube, director-general of intelligence services Isaac Moyo, Mnangagwa, Econet Wireless Zimbabwe Limited, NetOne Cellullar (Private) Limited, Telecel Zimbabwe (Private) Limited and the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz), are the respondents.

ZLHR's executive director Roselyn Hanzi said the application was necessitated by the Internet shutdown through a warrant issued in terms of Section 6 (2) of the Interceptions of Telecommunications Act Chapter 11:20.

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

"For business operations, students, hospitals, scholars, the shutdown is having a 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.

She said in light of the high charges for mobile communication, many were resorting to the use of WhatsApp, adding that shutting down such a platform meant the majority of people in Zimbabwe were denied the right to communication.

"Thus, the consequences of the directive to shut down internet access have 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 the 14th of January 2019.

"Users of these services in Zimbabwe are effectively unable to communicate on the Internet within and outside of Zimbabwe," she said.

Hanzi further told the court that the Internet shutdown had crippled access to business websites, social media sites, among other services. She said the government directive cost people significant losses of money, putting human lives at risk.

"We believe that the directive was made precipitously at the spur of the moment to silence the voices of the people in the interactive public discourse enabled by social media platforms.

"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," Hanzi said, adding that the government did not first obtain a court order authorising the directive.

She further accused the government of bullying internet service providers into complying with its "unreasonable and politically motivated" directive. More importantly, she stated that the directive was an infringement on people's right to freedom of expression and access to information provided for in terms of the Constitution.



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