The parliament of Zimbabwe has given a nod to a controversial bill set to punish citizens for “unpatriotic acts”, among them imposing heavy fines or even the death penalty on them.
According to critics, it is a dark day for democracy.
The so-called patriot clause of the Criminal Act targets those who harm the “national interest of Zimbabwe”.
It includes any citizen who meets a representative of a foreign country with the aim of encouraging sanctions against Zimbabwe or overthrowing the government.
A number of senior government officials and state-owned companies are under Western sanctions over alleged human rights abuses.
They have for a long time blamed the opposition for this and seek to stop meetings between the opposition and foreign officials.
The members of parliament voted 99 to 17 in favour of the law – one of the most controversial of Emmerson Mnangagwa’s presidency.
It will now go to the senate before it is signed into law.
Critics say the legislation is unconstitutional as it would violate freedom of association and the right to free speech.
An opposition official told media outlets that the way to end sanctions is to uphold human rights, not to criminalise criticism.
The controversial changes were passed as part of a series of amendments to the Criminal Act.
Law makers also voted in favour of minimum sentences for rape.