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Crisis Report - Issue 240
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition
November 21
, 2013

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Government confused on defamation laws

Two ministries in the Government of Zimbabwe have shown opposing intentions on the fate of the notorious criminal defamation laws, which are found under the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, which could signal lack of consensus on whether to scrap them or not.

Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister Prof. Jonathan Moyo recently said the defamation laws should be removed to create a free environment for the media, mean-while Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa has filed opposing papers at the Constitutional Court (Concourt) in a bid to have the laws retained.

The viewpoint of the Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Ministry seemed to be legally strengthened by the Concourt, which ruled that the laws, Sections 31(a) (iii) and 33 (a) (ii), which criminalize publishing and communicating falsehoods detrimental to the State, and undermining the authority of the President respectively were unconstitutional and must be scrapped on Wednesday, October 30.

However, when the Concourt gave Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Mnangagwa 20 days to show cause why the laws should not be removed, his ministry on behalf of the government filed legal opposition against the scrapping of the laws on the last day of the ultimatum on Wednesday, November 20.

Jeremiah Bhamu of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), a lawyer privy to the case and one of the lawyers representing visual artist Owen Maseko, who challenged the constitutionality of the law, confirmed that Minister Mnangagwa had opposed the scrapping.

“Minister Mnangagwa opposed confirmation of the order,” Bhamu said, “and filed bulky submissions. “We will respond to them in due course, meantime the show cause order was discharged.” Incidentally, the Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Minister who has been locked in a one year legal battle with private media is claiming US 1 million damages from newspaper stable, Alpha Media where Zimbabwe Independent editor Dumisani Muleya is cited as second respondent.

Mnangagwa won the first round of the suit after the High Court threw out the publishing company’s application for exception to the claim, according to The Herald of Tuesday, November 19. Besides the case of Masuku, the other case challenging the constitutionality the defamation laws was brought to the Concourt by journalists Constantine Chimakure and Vincent Kahiya of Alpha Media.

The legal opposition by government is at odds with the more progressive precedents set when similar provisions under the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) were ruled to be in violation of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, after Media Institute of Southern Africa - Zimbabwe Chapter (MISA-Zimbabwe) and other media organisations approached the African Commission in 2005.

AIPPA and POSA were revised in 2008 to repeal the provisions, but according to MISA-Zimbabwe Director Nhlanhla Ngwenya:

“Instead of repealing the laws completely, they brought them to a different Act, under Section 31 of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act.

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