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Zimbabwe President Mugabe Signs State Eavesdropping Law

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Friday signed into law the controversial Interception of Communications Bill, which gives his government the authority to eavesdrop on phone and Internet communications and read physical mail.

The legislation has drawn outspoken opposition from the political opposition and civil society organizations as trampling on the civil rights of Zimbabweans.

Spokesman Nelson Chamisa of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change faction of Morgan Tsvangirai called it an addition to "the dictator's tool kit."

Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet Misheck Sibanda was quoted in the Government Gazette Friday as saying Mr. Mugabe has signed the bill.

Secretary General Welshman Ncube of the MDC faction led by Arthur Mutambara called it a "final straw to the curtailment to the liberties of Zimbabweans."

Human rights lawyer Otto Saki told VOA that the law interferes and undermines the enjoyment of rights enshrined in the constitution and is a sign Mr. Mugabe wants to consolidate his power by "any means necessary or unnecessary."

But Communications Minister Christopher Mushowe said Zimbabwe is not unique in the world in passing such legislation, citing electronic eavesdropping programs in the United States, the United Kingdom and South Africa, among other countries.

Under the law an interception of communication monitoring center will be set up. But Internet and other communications service providers will be required to ensure that their systems are technically capable of supporting lawful interception at all times.

Those authorized to make applications for the interception of communications include the chief of defense intelligence, the director general of the president's department of national security, the commissioner of the Zimbabwe Republic Police and the commissioner general of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.

Law Society of Zimbabwe President Beatrice Mtetwa told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the law is draconian and abusive.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...