Al Jazeera Journalism Review

outside image
Zimbabwe investigative journalist Hopewell Chin,ono, gets out of a prison truck at the magistrates courts in handcuffs in Harare, Friday, Nov, 6, 2020. Chin'ono, who is one of Zimbabwe's most prominent critics of President Emmerson Mnangagwa's administration, faced contempt of court and "obstructing the course of justice" charges. He has since been arrested and imprisoned again for carrying out his duties as a journalist and being critical of the state [Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP]

What does Zimbabwe’s new ‘Patriot Bill’ mean for journalists?  

As Zimbabwe heads into elections this week, a new law dubbed the ‘Patriot Bill’ will further criminalise journalism


Zimbabwe’s new ‘Patriot Bill’ was always going to be controversial. The Criminal Law Codification and Reform Bill was passed by the Senate in June this year and, finally, signed into law by President Emmerson Mnangagwa on July 14.

As the country hurtles towards national elections this week, this new law is a final nail in the coffin for press freedom in Zimbabwe. 

With one of its major amendments designed to “create a new crime of wilfully injuring the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe”, the new law is seen as little more than an instrument to silence perceived “state enemies” and, indeed, anyone vocal about human rights and deemed critical of the state - including journalists.

The Patriot Bill in its present form will significantly curtail journalists as it includes restrictions on meeting, cultivating and talking to sources, such as diplomats, for fear of being labelled “an agent of a foreign government”, which attracts a punitive penalty.

It further automatically bars journalists from discussing or investigating many important issues regarding national issues and sanctions. By nature, journalists are supposed to be inquisitive, open-minded, objective and are required to dig for relevant information from sources, including diplomats. The new law effectively criminalises this.  

From the onset, the aim of the bill has been clear: to monitor and suppress journalists and activists questioning controversial electoral processes and resulting outcomes


When the draft bill was published in December 2022, few anticipated robust objections during scrutiny, especially from the ruling ZANU PF, which enjoys the assembly majority. Of course there have been some objections from opposition politicians, who say “the bill will stifle democratic space”, but not enough to prevent the bill from passing into law.

Judging from the most recent elections in 2018, the August 2023 elections will almost certainly result in re-election for the incumbent, despite rising discontent in the country. Just to make absolutely certain there is no dissent, the handy new Patriot Bill can be unleashed to deal with anyone questioning the outcome. 

From the onset, the aim of the bill has been clear: to monitor, suppress, increase surveillance of political actors, journalists and activists questioning the existing controversial electoral processes and resulting outcomes.  

Other regional observers have condemned the recent signing of the bill into an act, noting that it will limit the rights of Zimbabweans, already constricted by existing repressive laws. 

Commenting on the bill, Khanyo Farisè, Amnesty International’s Deputy Research Director for Southern Africa, said: “The signing of the ‘Patriotic Bill’ into an Act by the President is a grave attack on the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.”

The major fear among local journalists is that the law will be used to stifle their freedoms and shut down democratic, critical spaces. The wording of the new law is sufficiently vague to allow interpretation which would harm journalism. Many fear it could be applied and abused to swiftly silence journalists in the aftermath of an expected disputed election outcome, in the guise of protecting the “interest and sovereignty” of the country. 

For journalists in Zimbabwe, July 14, 2023 will be remembered as a black day for democracy and journalism


Back in 2021, Hopewell Chin’ono, a prominent journalist, was arrested for a third time for ‘communicating falsehoods’ using spurious laws. For him, and other journalists in Zimbabwe, July 14, 2023 will be remembered as a black day for democracy and journalism.

Responding to the passing of the bill, Chin’ono wrote: “A very sad day for Zimbabwe today as that country’s parliament has passed the Patriot Act bill into law. It seeks to destroy freedom of association and assembly. Free speech is now dead and any Zimbabwean holding a meeting with a foreign government official will be jailed.”  

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) says the bill is a threat to free expression, journalists included. “It is feared that this law is designed to crack down on any form of dissent in the country and punishing citizens, civil society organisations and political adversaries exercising their right to free expression on national affairs.”         

Veritas, which monitors lawmaking in Zimbabwe, stated: “In so far as the new crime penalises the consideration, planning or implementing of sanctions or boycotts, it will be a serious deterrent to free speech in Zimbabwe.”

The bill comes less than a year after the Cyber Security and Data Protection Bill, which also largely curtails the work of media and whistleblowers. It further cements laws which have resulted in opposition activist Job Sikhala being imprisoned for more than a year, without proper trial over a video, accused of “obstructing the course of justice”, for example.

In April this year, Jacob Ngarivhume, another politician, was sentenced to four years in prison for allegedly “inciting violence” using his Twitter account. And with the new act, which would appear to contravene Zimbabwe’s Constitution granting freedom of expression and association, the arrests of Chin’ono, Sikhala and Ngarivhume have set a precedent going forward.  

Derick Matsengarwodzi is an independent journalist based in Zimbabwe


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera Journalism Review’s editorial stance




More Articles

How Latin American media echoes Israeli discourse in reporting Gaza news

Heavily influenced by US and Israeli diplomatic efforts, Latin American media predominantly aligns with and amplifies the Israeli perspective. This divergence between political actions and media representation highlights the complex dynamics shaping Latin American coverage of the Gaza conflict.

Rita Freire Published on: 23 Nov, 2023
Critique of German media's handling of Gaza Conflict: Biased reporting and controversial journalistic stances

The German media's coverage of the Gaza conflict has been criticized for being biased, presenting a distorted view of the conflict, focusing only on the Israeli perspective, and downplaying the suffering of Palestinians. This biased reporting undermines the media's role as an objective source of information and fails to provide a balanced view of the conflict.

AJR Contributor Published on: 16 Nov, 2023
Colonial legacy of surveillance: hidden world of surveillance technology in the African continent

African nations’ expenditure on surveillance technology from China, Europe and the US is a direct threat to the media, democracy and freedom of speech, and an enduring legacy of colonial surveillance practices.

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 14 Nov, 2023
How the New York Times fuelled a crackdown on journalists in India

Vague reporting and a piece ‘laden with innuendo’ by the New York Times gave Indian authorities the excuse they needed to crack down on news website Newsclick

Meer Faisal
Meer Faisal Published on: 31 Oct, 2023
Journalists feel the pain, but the story of Gaza must be told  

People don’t always want to hear the historical context behind horrifying events, resorting even to censorship, but the media must be free to provide it

Aidan White Published on: 30 Oct, 2023
Queen Rania is absolutely right - Western media’s double standards on Gaza

Why does international media use loaded and dehumanising language about the Palestinians when reporting on the Israeli bombardment of 2.2 million people in Gaza?

Abeer Ayyoub
Abeer Ayyoub Published on: 27 Oct, 2023
'War propaganda' - Brazil’s media has abandoned journalistic standards over Gaza

Brazil’s mainstream media, in its unwavering support for Israel, is out of step with public and social media responses to the bombardment of Gaza

Bruno Lima Rocha Beaklini Published on: 25 Oct, 2023
‘Emotional truth’ is not a cover for fabricating stories

Comedians who engage with the news should not be free to ignore the rules of ethical journalism

Akanksha Singh Published on: 16 Oct, 2023
Get this straight, Western media: Palestinians aren’t sub-human

Dehumanisation of Palestinians is as central to Israel’s war strategy as the deadly missiles it wields

Andrew Mitrovica Published on: 10 Oct, 2023
Victims of the Mediterranean: ‘Migrants’ or ‘Refugees’?

The term ‘migrant’ insufficient to describe victims of the horror unfolding in the Mediterranean Sea; it dehumanises these people and is a failure of journalism

A picture of the author, Mohammad Ahdad.
Mohammad Ahdad Published on: 2 Oct, 2023
Why is a Western news organisation funding propaganda in India?

ANI, the world’s largest source of Indian news, receives funding from Thomson-Reuters, despite widespread condemnation for its misinformation about Muslims

Morley Musick Published on: 18 Sep, 2023
How do we determine 'newsworthiness' in the digital age?

The relentless flow of news in the digital age has re-shaped the parameters by which we decide what is 'news' and what is not

Muhammad Khamaiseh Published on: 11 Sep, 2023
‘Focus on the story, not the storyteller’ - the dilemma of a diaspora journalist

When reporting on their homelands, diaspora journalists walk a fine line between emotional connection and objective storytelling

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 4 Sep, 2023
Why does Arab media fail so badly at covering refugee issues?

Arabic media discourse on refugees and migrants frequently aligns too closely with the Western narrative, often spreading fear of migrants while emphasising the burdens of asylum

A picture of the author, Ahmad Abu Hamad
Ahmad Abu Hamad Published on: 28 Aug, 2023
Verify everything: What I learned from covering the Qatar World Cup 

Last year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar was not the flop so many in the Western media predicted it would be. It taught me one thing - verify everything!

Noe Zavaleta Published on: 8 Aug, 2023
How do we determine ‘newsworthiness’?

Digital media and the algorithms used by platforms to determine the news they send out to their audiences have fundamentally changed the face of news planning

Mohammed Shazly Published on: 24 Jul, 2023
What Zimbabwe’s news rooms must learn from global media closures

A flourishing media needs more than just capital and a few good ideas - it needs innovation  

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 13 Jul, 2023
Journalists beware! The silly season is upon us

With parliaments on recess and all the movers and shakers off on their holidays, journalists can find themselves scrabbling about for any old news to report. But be careful what you resort to

Ilya U Topper Published on: 3 Jul, 2023
Guatemalan media needs to talk about the consequences of corruption

The media in Guatemala has a responsibility to demonstrate how corruption affects people’s human rights

Jorge Sagastume Published on: 26 Jun, 2023
Donald Lu is dangerously wrong - India does not have a ‘free press’

The US must stop whitewashing Prime Minister Modi’s crackdown on Indian journalists

Safa Ahmed Published on: 20 Jun, 2023
Sudan shows us why Africans must tell their own conflict stories

Africa lacks freedom of expression because its stories are told by others

Philip Obaji Jr
Philip Obaji Jr Published on: 1 Jun, 2023
What happened when I asked ChatGPT to write my article

It got quite a lot right, and quite a lot very, very wrong

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 22 May, 2023
Shireen Abu Akleh’s forgotten murder

Over the past year, many in the media profession in the US have deliberately chosen to forget the assassination of their colleague

Andrew Mitrovica Published on: 11 May, 2023
The correspondent's job: Ask people, don't tell them

Should foreign correspondents and their media organisations ever take a stand on another country’s political divisions?

Ilya U Topper Published on: 8 May, 2023