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Zimbabwe House approves controversial electronic surveillance bill

[JURIST] The Zimbabwean House of Assembly, the lower chamber of parliament, approved the controversial Interception of Communications Bill [PDF text] Wednesday, authorizing the the directors of Zimbabwe's Central Intelligence Organization [Wikipedia backgrounder], the military, taxation authority, and the Commissioner of Police to intercept communications across the telephone, the internet, and other electronic communication devices. The bill, which will also allow the government to open conventional mail, requires communication service providers to facilitate the interception and storage of communications at the government's request. Opposition lawmakers from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) [party website] criticized the bill, which is expected to receive the approval of the Senate, as an ongoing effort by President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile] to consolidate power and crack down on dissent in Zimbabwe [JURIST news archive].

On Monday, a rights group accused [press release, PDF; JURIST report] the Zimbabwean government of "interfering with the proper functioning of the administration of justice, the role of lawyers and their independence." Police in Zimbabwe have long been accused of ignoring the rule of law. In May, Zimbabwean police refused to comply with a High Court ruling [JURIST report] requiring police officials to vacate a farm seized by police in March, and responded by ordering more police on to the property. In March, opposition leader and presidential hopeful Morgan Tsvangirai [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] was arrested and beaten [JURIST reports] while in police custody. Police officials have routinely ignored court orders and critics have alleged that Mugabe has given tacit approval to their actions. Reuters has more.

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