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MMPZ welcomes scrapping of sections of defamation law
The Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe
October 31, 2013

MMPZ welcomes the historic ruling by Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court that sections of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act criminalizing the undermining of the authority of the President and communicating falsehoods must be struck off, as they are unconstitutional.

The ruling, which was delivered by Justice Luke Malaba, followed an appeal by Zimbabwe Independent journalists, Constantine Chimakure and Vincent Kahiya, on one hand, and visual artist Owen Maseko, all of whom had been charged under the Criminal Code.

Chimakure and Kahiya were charged under Section 31 for allegedly publishing or communicating false statement prejudicial to the State, while Maseko was charged under Section 33 for allegedly undermining the authority of the President through his paintings.

The full bench handed a unanimous decision with respect to Zimbabwe Independent journalists, while the order was given by consent of both parties with respect to Maseko’s case.

This landmark judgement came three days after Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister Jonathan Moyo had said that government would soon strike off criminal defamation from the country’s statutes to align the law with provisions of the new Constitution that guarantee freedom of expression and freedom of the media (The Sunday Mail, 27/10).

In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Mail (27/10), Moyo argued that the existence of criminal defamation in the legal statutes had caused the country “more harm than good”.

MMPZ, alongside other CSOs, has for long campaigned for the abolition of criminal defamation and repulsion of other restrictive legislation such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the Public Order and Security Act (POSA).

These laws are not only inconsistent with the progressive nature of the new Declaration of Rights in our Constitution, but also violate regional and international instruments such as the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which compels governments to promote and protect freedom of expression, association and assembly.

MMPZ has also continued to lobby against what appeared to be an abuse of defamation laws to settle political scores against government’s critics such as the private media, CSOs, and ordinary Zimbabweans, and Zanu-PF’s political opponents.

Not only were such laws being selectively applied, but they were also discouraging journalists and the public from investigating and exposing malpractices in society such as high-level corruption.

MMPZ calls upon the government to immediately repeal the remaining pieces of legislation that impinge on Zimbabweans’ right to freedom of expression, association and assembly, in line with the new Constitution and regional and international instruments, which the government is signatory to.

The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, for instance, declares that: “No one shall be subject to arbitrary interference with his or her freedom of expression” and that: “Any restrictions on freedom of expression shall be provided by law, serve a legitimate interest and be necessary and in a democratic society”.

In addition to observing that freedom of expression “should not be restricted on public order or national security grounds unless there is a real risk of harm to a legitimate interest and there is a close causal link between the risk of harm and the expression”, the Charter urges all States to “review all criminal restrictions on content (and expression) to ensure that they serve a legitimate interest in a democratic society”.

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