Zimbabwe's parliament passed a controversial bill on Thursday restricting foreign non-governmental organizations (NGO) involved in human rights work or issues of governance and cutting foreign funding to local groups engaged in similar work.
As reported by the Agence France-Presse (AFP), the bill, which provoked weeks of intensive debate and slammed by critics as draconian, was approved by 48 members and opposed by 28 lawmakers and was passed in the third reading in the 150-seat house.
One of four controversial bills being tabled in parliament, the NGO Bill seeks to repeal the Private Voluntary Organizations Act and establish new legislation that analysts have condemned as "patently unconstitutional, undemocratic and undesirable in a democratic country."
According to the Zimbabwe Independent news agency, the Bill grants the government extended powers to close down NGOs perceived to be critical of its policies by imposing “restrictive registration formalities.”
NGOs dealing with human rights and governance would be denied access to foreign financial assistance in a bid to reduce their contacts with international organizations. Those found in breach of these regulations would be liable to criminal prosecution.
The bill has been condemned as "unconstitutional", "retrogressive", "satanic", "draconian" and "punitive," AFP reported
The opposition and human rights groups say the bill, which comes ahead of crucial parliamentary elections in March, could also limit the work of churches.
Once signed into law, the bill would require all NGO’s to register again—a process they fear could take a long time.
The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) has stated that the NGO Bill and three other new Bills expected to be pushed through parliament would effectively put the country under undeclared martial rule ahead of the critical general election.