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  Politics

Churches condemn proposed clampdown on Zimbabwe charities
by STAFF
 EDITORS (8/17/2004)

photograph by Sunday Times (SA) Churches and aid groups warned that a proposed law to regulate non-governmental organisations in Zimbabwe effectively criminalises aspects of Christian charity work and deprives millions of impoverished Zimbabweans of aid.  The bill, proposed ahead of key elections, does not interfere with strictly spiritual aspects of church work, but it requires that all charitable organisations register with the state under stringent conditions and bans overseas funding.

On Monday, the multi-denominational Christians Together for Justice and Peace joined mounting protests against the bill, calling it "another attempt to whittle away our rights and privileges as Christians, and to restrict or imprison us within a strictly religious domain.''

"Will churches be allowed to feed the hungry, care for orphans, educate the poor, empower people to think for themselves without fear of being answerable to the government?'' the alliance asked in a statement.

"Are we now to submit to a man-made authority?''

President Robert Mugabe has repeatedly castigated church groups, charities and human rights groups for criticising his increasingly autocratic government, and accused them of fomenting dissent.

The proposed Non-governmental Organisations Bill would require that such groups register with a state-dominated regulatory council and disclose details of their funding and programmes.

Funding from overseas would be illegal.

Groups that continue to operate after being denied registration would be closed down and their officials subject to arrest.

Parliament, dominated by Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, is expected to approve the bill within weeks ahead of legislative elections in March.

Aid groups warned that the bill's ban on foreign funding threatens assistance to millions of impoverished Zimbabweans, reeling from the effects of the worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1980.

"The bill criminalises a sector that is providing social safety nets to a lot of communities,'' said Jonah Mudehwe, head of the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations.

This in a country where more than 70 percent of the 12.5 million people live in poverty, a quarter of the population is infected with HIV and 1 million children are orphans, he said in a statement Sunday.

The proposed bill has been likened to sweeping media laws passed in 2002 that gave the government the power to shut down independent newspapers, stifle criticism of its policies and arrest dozens of journalists.

Non-governmental groups have documented alleged human rights violations amid the political violence that has killed 200 people and driven tens of thousands from their homes since 2000.

Much of the violence has been blamed on ruling party militants and security forces since the government launched a program to seize thousands of white-owned farms for redistribution to black Zimbabweans.

The land reform program, coupled with erratic rains, has crippled the country's agriculture-based economy.

 


Source: AP

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