Home > Civil liberties, Philosophy > Is Zimbabwe a police state?

Is Zimbabwe a police state?

October 30, 2013

In Zimbabwe, the police have the power to detain somebody without charge or questioning, the government is able to overrule the judiciary, small crimes like drug possession or dangerous driving are punishable with over 20 years in jail, freedom of assembly and association are restricted, free speech is stifled as outspoken people can be taken to court for saying peaceful but “wrong” comments, subsections of society are banned from certain jobs, the internet is censored, the right to silence has been removed, and the government is involved in surveillance programs against their own citizens that sound like they come directly from 1984.

The system in Zimbabwe is still democratic, with regular elections and an active opposition. But the steady growth in government/police powers and the erosion of civil liberties have led some observers to describe Zimbabwe as a “police state”.

Not everybody agrees.

Some people in Zimbabwe have dismissed the idea of a police state as silly fear-mongering from the radical fringe. They argue that the expanded police and government powers are necessary to keep ordinary people safe. These loyalists point out that the government and police do not intend to abuse their powers, innocent people have nothing to fear, and that people complaining are simply defending criminals. Most Zimbabweans seem to agree with the loyalists and support the “tough on crime” policies.

From an outsiders perspective it is hard to know what conclusions to draw. It seems clear enough that Zimbabwe has abandoned the traditional checks and balances of liberal democracy, and have placed their faith in arbitrary power and super-strict sentencing. But is this a bad thing? Just because the government and police have suspended privacy and civil liberties, does that necessarily mean that Zimbabwe is a police state? From the outside it is easy to judge and criticise Zimbabwe for their strict policies… but perhaps they have found the right balance?

Before we judge countries like Zimbabwe for having authoritarian policies, perhaps we should try some of them in Australia to see if they work. What could go wrong?

  1. October 30, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    My apologies… it seems that I have accidentally written in the wrong country name. But all the same points apply. Whatever the name, do you think the above country is a “police state”?

  2. John Mc
    October 31, 2013 at 1:52 am

    There are four characteristics which brand a country unmistakably as a dictatorship: one-party rule, executions without trial or with a mock trial for political offenses, the nationalization or expropriation of private property, and censorship. A country guilty of these outrages forfeits any moral prerogatives, any claim to national rights or sovereignty, and becomes an outlaw. – Ayn Rand

    Zimbabwe – definitely.
    Australia – perhaps not, just headed that way!

  3. October 31, 2013 at 2:14 am

    I wasn’t really interested in the question of dictatorship or democracy… what I’m curious about is whether the above-mentioned country is a “police state” or whether that is an inappropriate exaggeration.

  4. John Mc
    October 31, 2013 at 5:55 am

    Surely a police state is just dictatorship-lite?

  5. John Mc
    November 1, 2013 at 1:18 am

    It’s shame this conversation didn’t take off, it’s one worth having.

    Generally speaking, I believe the reasons why we shouldn’t tolerate a police state – even a really soft police state like the UK – is that it prevents the achievement of human potential and results in lower living standards and less happiness. Specifically, the longer the government reach into all aspects of society the less innovation, creativity, strong community, culture, charity, entrepreneurship and productivity you will get. Hence people lead less satisfying lives.

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