Home » Judicial » Concourt Voids Mugabe Defamation Law

THE Constitutional Court (Concourt) on Tuesday scrapped the punitive criminal defamation laws, which the State used as a handy tool to silence the country’s critical private media and opponents of President Robert Mugabe.

Deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba, in a ruling consented to by eight other ConCourt judges, affirmed his earlier ruling late last year, decriminalising the country’s highly contentious insult laws provided for in the Criminal Code.

The Constitutional Court challenge was filed by The Independent newspaper staffers Vincent Kahiya and Constantine Chimakure – now Zimbabwe Mail editor – after they published alleged falsehoods back in 2009.

The State was offended by a story written by Chimakure which fingered certain security agents in the abduction of political and human rights activists, including Jestina Mukoko.

Tuesday’s ruling was a follow-up by the same court on its landmark November 2013 ruling during which it invalidated the criminal defamation law.

The ConCourt had given Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa up to January 20 this year to justify why the law should continue to exist within the country’s statutes.

Mnangagwa however, proceeded to submit what the court found to be a lengthy document which ran short of satisfying the objectives of the order.

The minister later developed cold feet, informing the court that the State was no longer interested in opposing the court’s view, paving way for the ConCourt to reaffirm its earlier ruling.

“On the return day, no affidavit was filed by the Minister,” Malaba said in his ruling, “What was filed was a lengthy document containing a critical review of the whole judgement of the court.

“The purpose of the document was to show that the court had misdirected itself in finding that (a section) of the Criminal Code had the effect of interfering with the exercise of the right to freedom of expression enshrined under the former Constitution.

“The object was to show that the court also erred in holding the prima facie view that (a section) of the criminal code was not reasonably justified in a democratic society.

“There was no attempt to show the existence of factors which were not brought to the attention of the court, consideration which would have persuaded it not to accept the prima facie view that the enactment was not reasonably justified in a democratic society.”

Justice Malaba further ordered the respondent to pay the costs of the main application as well as the costs relating to the confirmation of the rule.

Njabulo Ncube, who chairs the media rights lobby group, Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zimbabwe Chapter, welcomed the court’s ruling to scrap the statute which he said was being used deliberately by the country’s paranoid rulers to ward off media scrutiny.

“Misa welcomes this development as a step in the right direction in the promotion and protection of freedom of expression and media freedom guaranteed in the constitution,” Ncube said.

“Criminal defamation is antithetical to a constitutional democracy such as ours. There can never be justification for a law that has its roots in the 13th century dictatorship of the monarchs to remain in our modern democracy.

“This is because criminal defamation imposes criminal sentences for expressing oneself. Surely, unpalatable contents of one’s expression cannot be equated to crimes such as rape, murder, robbery etc. which attract jail terms.

“To make matters worse, the law is simply a tool used by those in office to insulate themselves through threats of jailing journalists when they know that there has been hardly a conviction under that law.

“They know that the threat of a jail term can easily send a chilling effect on journalists resulting in self-censorship and creation of sacred cows among those in power.”

Source : New Zimbabwe