Basildon Peta: I could be jailed for writing this article

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The Independent Online

Two weeks ago I wrote agreeing with Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu who had said that President Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's 78-year-old leader, "has gone bonkers in a big way".

If I dare repeat a similar statement now I risk spending the next year in jail.

This is because President Mugabe signed into law a draconian Public Order and Security Bill (POSB) on Monday night which criminalises any criticism of the beleaguered leader of Zimbabwe.

If the Zimbabwe government believes I am still assisting terrorism, as it once accused me and five other journalists reporting for the British and South African media of doing, then this might cost me my life.

Although much of the world attention has been focused on Mr Mugabe's unsuccessful attempts to ram through Parliament one of the most repressive media laws in the world, the POSB, which became operational yesterday, in fact contains some of the most draconian gags on the media. These clauses leave Mr Mugabe a complete untouchable, despite his distinguished career of misrule.

It is not surprising the new amended but equally draconian media law due to be debated in parliament today has had some sections which prohibited criticism of the President deleted. Most of the provisions making Mugabe immune to criticism are now firmly entrenched in the POSB.

The POSB doesn't only affect journalists but allows Mugabe to use crude force to silence critics. By enacting it, Mugabe has turned to the dustbins of history to salvage laws that marked the pinnacle of colonial oppression.

What a contradiction from a man who revels in calling himself a freedom fighter and a democrat.

The question now gripping many Zimbabweans is whether it isn't high time the international community took tough action to rein in this wayward southern African dictator.

If Zimbabweans support Mugabe as he claims, then what's the justification of passing some of the most repressive laws that exceed the worst excesses of Ian Smith and apartheid South Africa? No country anywhere on the planet should be treated like a personal fiefdom as Mugabe is doing to Zimbabwe and his countrymen. His POSB is not only dastardly but downright criminal.

With effect from yesterday, the POSB made it mandatory for all Zimbabweans above the age of 16 to carry their identity cards. This has been introduced despite the fact that the carrying of such cards was outlawed by Zimbabwe's dismissed chief justice, Anthony Gubbay, as being unconstitutional in 2000.

Anyone who fails to produce an identity card at the request of a police officer will spend six months in jail.

The POSB also empowers any police officer above the rank of inspector to search, without a warrant, any person or vehicle and seize anything which he thinks may provide evidence of a crime.

And the new law makes it virtually impossible for people to hold demonstrations. As Zimbabwe heads for a crucial presidential election on 9 and 10 March, this provision makes it completely impossible for the opposition to campaign. President Mugabe's militias have already been disrupting opposition rallies with impunity.

While is is high time that Zimbabweans themselves stood up to Mr Mugabe's organised anarchy by any means possible, it is also high time the international community stopped this dictator from pursuing actions that threaten to kill southern Africa's participation in the global economy.

What is now needed is real and tough action from the world. No more words and pleas.

The Commonwealth meeting next week would be a good starting point.

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