Harare, October 29, 2013 – The use of insult laws to criminalise freedom of expression by President Robert Mugabe’s administration will be under focus on Wednesday when the Constitutional Court hear a challenge brought before the highest court by persecuted Bulawayo based visual artist Owen Maseko.
The Constitutional Court will on Wednesday hear the matter of Maseko, one of the country’s most talented artists who faces charges of insulting President Robert Mugabe through “offensive” Gukurahundi paintings.
Maseko, who has been a target of State security agents, wants the Constitutional Court to assert the right of artists to free expression as he feels that they are being breached by some sections of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
Some of his most prominent works – such as paintings recollecting the 1980s military killings of at least 20 000 people in Midlands and Matabeleland regions – have angered authorities.
The paintings of the Gukurahundi massacres, as well as their exhibition, landed him a six-day stint in police cells but he has continued resisting attempts to stifle the work of artists.
On Wednesday, Maseko will be at the Constitutional Court, where his lawyers Advocate Zvikomborero Chadambuka instructed by Jeremiah Bamu of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) will continue with Maseko’s legal battle to have laws infringing on artists’ rights to free expression and freedom of conscience, particularly freedom of thought as guaranteed in the Constitution, declared unconstitutional.
The internationally recognised artist approached the Constitutional Court after he was arrested and charged in March 2010 for staging an exhibition in Bulawayo depicting the 1980s Matabeleland massacres (Gukurahundi) carried out by a crack military unit on the instructions of the government. Maseko was accused of undermining the authority of or insulting the President and causing offence to persons of a particular race or religion. His exhibition, which showcases paintings that explored the torture and massacres that characterized the civil unrest known as Gukurahundi, was forcibly shut down.
Trial in the insult case was stayed in September 2010 after Bulawayo Magistrate Ntombizodwa Mazhandu granted an application filed by Maseko’s lawyers then Lizwe Jamela, Nosimilo Chanayiwa and Jeremiah Bamu of ZLHR for the Constitutional Court to determine the constitutionality of the charges.
Maseko argues that criminalising creative arts infringes on the freedom of expression and freedom of conscience. Referring the matter to the Constitutional Court, Magistrate Mazhandu ruled that it was a fact that Gukurahundi did happen.
The Constitutional Court will now determine whether or not bonafide works of artistic creativity can be subjected to prosecution under Section 31 and 33 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (Chapter 9:23) without infringing on provisions of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
Maseko’s banned Gukurahundi exhibition was a unique and creative innovation in the history of
Zimbabwe in that it was a mixture of wall paintings, Acrylies on canvas, 3D Installations as well as an open space for those viewing the exhibition to write their comments detailing their interpretations and/or thoughts about the exhibition. But, even after the ban, police were so determined to ensure the public could not see from the street a collection titled “Two Dissidents” depicting figures of a man and a woman hanging upside down that they used newspapers to cover windows to the art gallery.