HARARE – Zimbabwe will criminalise “making unsubstantiated claims of torture and abductions,” ministers said on Tuesday following a cabinet meeting.

Private citizens and groups who negotiate with hostile foreign governments to the detriment of “Zimbabwe’s foreign relations” will also face prosecution under proposed amendments to the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act, information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government is blamed by pro-democracy groups of widespread rights abuses including abductions, torture and killings carried out by security forces, but he says “bad apples” in his country of 14 million and hostile Western governments are conspiring to ensure his government fails.

“Cabinet noted that the current law does not criminalise the unauthorised communication or negotiation by private citizens with foreign governments if such communication or negotiation has a direct or indirect implication on Zimbabwe’s foreign relations and policy,” Mutsvangwa told reporters.

“According to the constitution (of Zimbabwe), the foreign policy of Zimbabwe must be based on the promotion and protection of the national interests of Zimbabwe, respect for international law, peaceful co-existence with other nations and the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means.

“In addition, the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations of 1961 only recognises states as legitimate players in foreign relations and negotiations, private players thus have no business in foreign relations and negotiations between countries.”

She added: “The amendments will criminalise the conduct of isolated citizens or groups who, for self-gain, cooperate or connive with hostile foreign governments to inflict suffering on Zimbabwean citizens and to cause damage to the national interest.

“Individuals or groups who involve themselves in issues of foreign relations without verifying facts or engaging domestic authorities, such willful misinformation of foreign governments will therefore make the individuals or groups liable for prosecution.”

Mutsvangwa said the amendments also sought to punish organisers of protests deliberately timed to coincide with major international, continental or regional events or high-profile visits.

“There are also various unsubstantiated claims of torture and abductions that are concocted to tarnish the image of government and these amendments will criminalise such conduct,” she said.

Attorney General Advocate Prince Machaya weighed in said the amendments would cover gaps within the existing laws.

Asked if the amendments were not retrogressive, Machaya said: “I don’t understand how the crafting of laws that are consistent with our own Constitution and consistent with international law is retrogressive.” – New Ziana