On 29 November 2018, The Centre for Human Rights, Media Institute for Southern Africa and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights organized a workshop in Harare, Zimbabwe, aimed at reflecting on Zimbabwe’s 2018 elections. This was in the context of access to information , freedom of expression and digital rights against the backdrop of the normative standards adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights such as the Model Law on Access to Information in Africa and the Guidelines on Access to Information and Elections in Africa. The workshop was attended by representatives from the media, media organisations, political parties, election monitors and civil society organisations including women, youth and disability organisations.
Although the constitution of Zimbabwe provides for the right of access to information, there was consensus that the culture of secrecy is still the default position and the principle of proactive disclosure is yet to proliferate into most institutions (public and private). The Guidelines on Access to Information and Elections in Africa are still a new concept that is yet to be embraced. Generally, citizens can express their views and there are constitutional guarantees for freedom of expression but there are still pieces of legislation like the Criminal Codification Act that restrict and criminalise free expression. As a result, there have been incidents of arrests of citizens for expressing views perceived as anti-government. Consequently, self-censorship has become the custom especially among media practitioners.
The digital rights component of the discussion was also comprehensive and informative with participants reflecting on issues such as data protection, privacy and internet particularly because of the growing use of social media and the introduction of the biometrics in the electoral process.
There is need to continue the discussions as Zimbabwe ‘s legal framework on freedom of expression and access to information is yet to be aligned with the country’s 2013 constitution and international human rights standards.