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Zimbabwe Parliament Weighs Amendments to Draconian Public Order and Security Act

Sponsor Innocent Gonese, chief whip of the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, said amendments would limit police power to authorize political gatherings and public meetings

The Zimbabwean Parliament resumed sitting on Tuesday following the holiday break, with the first order of business in the House a preliminary reading of the Public Order and Security Amendment Bill proposing to revise legislation that critics say has been used for years to repress government critics.

Following a first reading, the bill was referred to the Parliament's committee on legal affairs, which was to consider the proposed amendments before sending them for a second reading with its recommendations.

The amendments would limit the power of the police to bar political gatherings and public meetings. The amended legislation was submitted by Mutare Central Member and Chief Whip Innocent Gonese of the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

Gonese told VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira that he the bill because the police were abusing the legislation and their power. He said the Zimbabwe Republic Police has registered its opposition to the reforms.

Home Affairs Ministry Permanent Secretary Melusi Matshiya told the House Committee on Home Affairs and Defense that the proposed amendments would "water down" police powers and undermine the effectiveness of the national force, the state-controlled Herald newspaper reported.

Police Commissioner Solomon Mubatapasango said some of the proposed changes would pose a risk to national security.

"What are we afraid of in giving notice (of public meetings)?" he demanded. "If we don't criminalize it we are playing around with the security of the state."

Elsewhere, the Committee on Mines and Energy expressed its concern at the “careless manner” in which the government has handled the development of the controversial Marange diamond field in eastern Manicaland province.

On Monday the committee summoned police and mining officials to ask why a firm that is exploiting the Marange field under government contract arranged to auction diamonds in the absence of a Kimberly Process Certification Scheme monitor and without the knowledge of the government.

The Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe revealed an agreement between Mbada Diamond Mining Company and Harare to give the company marketing rights outside the scope of the parastatal agency. Committee Chairman Chindori Chininga called the agreement careless.

Mines Committee member Edmore Marime told VOA that members of the committee were barred from the Marange diamond zone after Mbada started mining. He expressed concern about the consequences of diamond mining in the Marange field, where Human Rights Watch reported massive human rights violations including killings, rapes, beatings and forced labor.

Critics say the diamond field is being developed by a clique of politicians of the former ruling ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe, and senior military officials, active and retired, in the aim of self-enrichment rather than channeling revenues into the reconstruction of the financially strapped country.