[JURIST] Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile] has approved changes to the country's restrictive Public Order and Security Act [PDF text] ahead of upcoming presidential elections, Zimbabwean state media reported Saturday. The law formerly prohibited public political gatherings without prior police approval and if police turned down a party's application to hold a rally, the party could only appeal its case to the Minister of Home Affairs, a member of the ruling party. Under the new amendments, political parties can appeal to a neutral magistrate and police are required to explain their reasons for denying rally permits. Mugabe signed the amendments into law [press release, PDF] on January 11. In addition to amendments to the Public Order and Security Act, changes to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Broadcasting Services Act were also approved
Mugabe is seeking a sixth term as president of Zimbabwe, and he is expected to prevail over splintered opposition. In the past, Zimbabwe has used the Public Order and Security Act to crack down on anti-government protests. In May, police in Harare arrested [JURIST report] members of the National Constitutional Assembly [official website] who protested against proposed amendments to the Zimbabwean Constitution [PDF text], later passed and signed into law [JURIST report], which essentially allow Mugabe to pick his successor. That same month, Zimbabwean police broke up a rally of about 50 lawyers who had gathered to protest the the arrest and imprisonment of two human rights advocates; the lawyers argued that the Public Order and Security Act exempted them from a general ban against demonstrations [JURIST reports]. AP has more.