The Patriot Act clause of the Criminal Law Code Amendment Bill criminalizes ‘willfully damaging the sovereignty and national interest’ of the country Emmerson Mnangagwa © Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

Zimbabwe’s parliament has passed a bill that penalizes citizens for “unpatriotic acts” with up to 20 years in prison, revoking citizenship, and fines.

Lawmakers voted 99 to 17 on Wednesday in favor of the Criminal Law Code Amendment Bill, which contains a Patriot Act clause that criminalizes “willfully damaging the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe.” This includes citizens who engage with foreign representatives to advocate for sanctions against Zimbabwe or to overthrow the government.

Harare has attributed Western sanctions, imposed on several senior officials and state-owned entities for alleged human rights violations, to the opposition’s actions and aims to curtail meetings between opposition members and foreign officials.

The decree, according to critics, perpetuates violations of free expression and targets opponents of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

Opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) said the bill was “dangerous,” “unconstitutional,” and a threat to Harare’s democracy.

“A person convicted under the ‘Patriotic Bill’ can potentially face the death sentence. This is a violation to the right to life under section 48 of the Constitution, which says the death penalty can only be imposed for murder committed by men between 21 and 70 years old,” spokesperson for the CCC Fadzayi Mahere stated on Thursday.

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President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is running for re-election, announced on Wednesday that Zimbabwe’s presidential and parliamentary elections would be held on August 23. Nelson Chamisa, 45, is the 80-year-old’s main opponent.

The CCC’s spokesperson has urged the electorates to “vote tyranny out” and elect a government that puts its citizens first, adding in a tweet on Thursday that “it’s only in a dictatorship where you can face the death penalty for having a meeting.” (RT)