Last Updated 10 November 2016

The Republic of Zimbabwe is an entirely landlocked sovereign state in southern Africa, with a population of approximately 13 million. Average life expectancy is 53.5 years of age. The strict authoritarian state which has been dominated by President Mugabe and the ZANU-PF party since independence in 1980 and continues to systematically abuse freedoms of belief, expression, assembly and other human rights. Approximately 70% of the population belong to various Christian denominations which are often intertwined with traditional indigenous animist beliefs. Evangelical denominations are the fastest growing religious groupings in the first decade of the 21st century, while there are also small numbers of adherents to Islam, Greek Orthodox, Hinduism, and very few openly atheist/non-religious persons.

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination

Constitution and government

The Zimbabwean constitution references a deity twice within the preamble which affirms “acknowledging the supremacy of Almighty God, in whose hands our future lies” and “imploring the guidance and support of Almighty God”.

However, there is no officiated state religion in Zimbabwe. Article 60 of the constitution guarantees “freedom of thought, opinion, religion or belief; and freedom to practise and propagate and give expression to their thought, opinion, religion or belief, whether in public or in private…”

The first half of 2013 saw the creation of a revised state constitution in which the third of nine Founding Values and Principles now recognises “fundamental human rights and freedoms”. But the regime’s oppression persists.

Religious Bias

There are reports of a strong and far reaching bias in the public sphere and in the political community towards Christianity. Church attendance is increasingly politicised. Many of the country’s political elites are affiliated with the churches and it is reported that the Anglican Church in particular holds a position of pronounced bilateral influence and cooperation with the state. There are also reports of religious bias making inroads into journalistic news.

Education and children’s rights

All schools are under state control and the curriculums of secondary and advanced secondary schools are strictly Christian with no mention of other faiths, or reference to non-belief, humanistic or other philosophical standpoints, though there are some conflicting reports in this area.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Section 42 of the penal code stipulates that “causing offence to persons of a particular religion” which is defined as “any system of beliefs associated with practices of worship that is adhered to by any significant body of persons in Zimbabwe or any other country” could result in a significant fine and / or imprisonment for up to one year. This law is explicitly recognised and codified as Blasphemy in the Correspondence of Common Law Crimes with Codified Crimes. Though this law appears on the statute books there are no available reports of citizens being charged with this specific offense.

Although Article 61(3c) of the constitution affirms media freedom and the importance of being afforded “fair opportunity for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions”, state sponsored political violence is an ongoing and chronic problem in Zimbabwe. Human rights defenders are known to have faced harassment, arbitrary arrest and violence at the hands of the authorities. Elections have been marked by political violence, with anti-government critics, journalists and even religious leaders being harassed and oppressed, and some sentenced to imprisonment or even torture.

Restrictions of freedom of expression permeated the art world in 2011 when the cast of a play that dealt with themes of election violence were arrested for “undermining the authority of the president”.

The 2002 Public Order and Security Act severely restricts freedoms of assembly, expression and association remains in force. This has purportedly been used to curb public prayer rallies in some instances.

“Reporters and columnists sometimes seem to be in competition to show off which one is more religious than the other, which one can quote the Bible verses with more alacrity than the next one, which one is ‘holier’ than the next…”

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