HARARE – The Zimbabwean government is said have heavily deployed secret agents in negihbouring countries, in a bid to sniff out activists behind what Harare views a “cyber war” against the troubled administration of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Although there has been no official confirmation, sources from within government say the new onslaught is in line with a law being enacted, which seeks to monitor and punish those viewed as “enemies of the state” due to their actions of organizing protests in foreign lands and those whose use of social media from foreign lands is perceived as action meant to destabilise Zimbabwe.
Sources told African Voice Global earlier this week that agents from the dreaded Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) and the Military Intelligence Department (MID) have been deployed in especially South Africa, Zambia, Botswana and Mozambique, in a bid to sniff out those perceived as “enemies of the state”, a term that Zanu (PF) uses to describe those opposed to its iron-fisted rule.
“The deployments have been going on despite the Covid-19 lockdowns,” said a source. “There is a team that monitors social media activity of Zimbabwean activists and follows hash-tags run about Zimbabwean politics. All those who negatively comment of steer trouble on the social media will continue to be monitored and files opened for them for when they return home.”
The sources say already, hundreds of activists in the diaspora have had their names “red-flagged” and would be “dealt with” upon their return to Zimbabwe.
“Those in the SADC cannot be a problem because of the good relations we have with their host countries. It is those overseas whose activities will be monitored and dealt with when they return home,” added the source.
“There are many who have held demonstrations in places like the United Kingdom and South Africa, those who have sponsored acts of insurgency in Zimbabwe from their foreign bases, those who continue to circulate fake news about Zimbabwe using foreign numbers and others who write on Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp to spread hate against Zimbabwe, the security forces and government. All those have files already.
“We have realized that it is actually people in foreign lands who worsen the situation back home because they are being paid by foreign embassies to do what they do. We have also seen some livestreams on facebook and videos of single protests being done by Zimbabweans in the Diaspora, meant to spread hate and stock upheavals against the government. We have documented their names and what they do. In the fullness of time, they will be made to pay. We will deal with them.”
The deployment comes about a week after the Zimbabwe Republic Police warmed that there were some individuals using social media to urge elements within the country’s security forces to disregard orders from their superiors as they maintain law and order in the country.
In a statement last Tuesday, the ZRP said some locals were peddling the messages using foreign numbers to avoid detection.
“The security services, especially the Zimbabwe Republic Police, the Zimbabwe National Army, Air Force of Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe Prison Correctional Services have noted with concern the recent social media positing urging members to disregard lawful orders, commands and instructions given by their commanders while performing duty,” said the statement.
“The unsolicited messages are meant to cause alarm, despondency and divide the security services in the performance of their constitutional responsibilities.”
Added the police, “While investigations are in progress, the security services are therefore strongly warning these dubious characters who are even using cell phone numbers with foreign codes to peddle hatred and incite violence among Zimbabweans.”
The under-fire Mnangagwa administration is also in the process of trying to fast-track a law will make it illegal for Zimbabweans to write certain statements on the social media. The Cyber Bill will punish those deemed to have abused social media or “peddled falsehoods against the State and citizens” once it becomes law.
In addition, the government will also soon introduce the Patriotic Act in Parliament – a law which it says seeks to promote patriotism among Zimbabweans. Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi recently told a Zimbabwean newspaper that the two pieces of legislation had become “priority bills” for authorities.
Government critics fear that both laws will be used to clamp down on dissenting voices in the country – particularly in light of recent accusations that authorities have been guilty of gross human rights violations. Mnangagwa recently said Zimbabwe had come under sustained and unjustified online attacks – in an alleged bid by “enemies of the State” to cause regime change in the country.
“We have the Cyber Bill, but we have been affected by Covid-19 (in passing it). There is a need to speed up the passing of this bill which is one of our priority bills. What we are going to do is that when we resume sitting next week, we will see if we can cover a lot of ground on it. We are hopeful that we can complete it before the end of October,” said Mr Ziyambi.
“People are now using foreign (cellphone) numbers to attack the government. The majority of those attacking the government use foreign numbers. They know … that they are perpetuating falsehoods and we are going to deal with this soon. We just need to speed up our Cyber laws and we will be able to deal with them after passing the bills.”
Clause 164 of the proposed Cyber Bill stipulates that anyone found guilty of communicating false information on the country or citizens can be jailed for five years.
“Any person who unlawfully and intentionally by means of a computer or information system makes available, broadcasts or distributes data to any other person concerning an identified or identifiable person knowing it to be false with intent to cause psychological or economic harm shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding level 10 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years, or to both such fine and such imprisonment,” it reads in part.