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Offensive Gukurahundi display test case set for Wednesday
Alex Bell, SW Radio Africa
October 29, 2013

View this article on the SW Radio Africa website

Bulawayo visual artist Owen Maseko, who is accused of insulting President Robert Mugabe with his Gukurahundi atrocities exhibition, will have his case heard by the Constitutional Court Wednesday.

Maseko was arrested on March 26th 2010 for setting up an exhibition highlighting key elements pertaining to the murder of thousands of civilians by Mugabe’s government in the 1980s.

The exhibition, staged at the Bulawayo Art Gallery, had barely just opened when security agents arrested Maseko and charged him with undermining the authority of or insulting the President. He was also accused of causing offence to persons of a particular race or religion.

Following his arrest Maseko was detained for six days, for the offences which carry a possible 20-year jail term.

Maseko first appeared before a Bulawayo magistrate in September 2010. The matter was referred to the Supreme Court (now the Constitutional Court) after Maseko’s lawyers argued that the charges against him were unconstitutional, and applied to have the case heard by a higher court.

The lawyers argued that the charges against Maseko infringe on his freedom of expression and of conscience.

Magistrate Ntombizodwa Mazhandu, who was hearing the case, granted the application and ruled that it was a fact that Gukurahundi - the state-sanctioned murder and torture of more than 20, 000 civilians in Matebeleland and the Midlands - took place.

On Wednesday the ConCourt is expected to decide whether works of artistic creativity can be subjected to prosecution under Section 31 and 33 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act without infringing on sections 18, 19 and 20 of the Constitution.

One of Maseko’s lawyers Jeremiah Bamu told SW Radio Africa that he is hopeful the outcome of Wednesday’s hearing will be in his client’s favour.

Speaking on Tuesday, Bamu said: “We are asking the ConCourt to determine whether or not there was any violation of Maseko’s freedom of expression, freedom of thought and of conscience.

“We also want the court to ascertain whether the prosecution against Maseko curtails his artistic freedoms. We are hopeful that the court will agree that as an artist, our client is entitled to comment on social issues.

“And the fact that it is publicly acknowledged that there was a Gukurahundi – should be one of those instances where Maseko is allowed to hold exhibitions and any piece of art centered on that,” Bamu added.

According to the lawyer, the insult allegations arise from “some effigies which were part of the exhibition which the State claims make it seem as if the President has a desire to remain in office until he dies.”

Maseko denies the charges, and insists that his creative freedoms entitle him to stage exhibitions on any topic which enable him to engage in social commentary.

This view was shared by media watchdog the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), which condemned Maseko’s arrest and the State ban on his exhibition.

The group said banning any media or artistic expression of the Gukurahundi, was an attempt by the State to “suppress unpleasant elements of Zimbabwe’s history that should be openly debated”.

In a statement released in 2010, MISA further stated: “This ban does not only mirror the lingering paranoia of free flowing information that reflects badly on some arms of government, but also demonstrates the need for extensive media law reforms that go beyond the much publicised repressive laws such as AIPPA, broadcasting and criminal defamation laws.”

SW Radio Africa is Zimbabwe's Independent Voice and broadcasts on Short Wave 4880 KHz in the 60m band.

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