Harare, February 25, 2015 – Zimbabwean journalists on Wednesday petitioned the country’s apex court seeking an order declaring a criminal defamation law to be unconstitutional in terms of the new governance charter.
Zimbabwean authorities have over the years abused criminal defamation laws under Section 96 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act to restrict freedom of the media through arresting and prosecuting journalists and other citizens.
The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA Zimbabwe) together with some senior journalists took Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister Jonathan Moyo and Attorney-General Prince Machaya to court seeking an order for criminal defamation to be declared unconstitutional.
Last week, the Constitutional Court declared criminal defamation as unconstitutional under the old constitution. This followed a challenge filed by journalists Nevanji Madanhire and Nqaba Matshazi who were arrested and prosecuted in 2011 for allegedly violating Section 96 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
In the application, MISA Zimbabwe and journalists Nqaba Matshazi, Sydney Saize and Godwin Mangudya together with Roger Stringer, an independent publishing consultant, argued that there is even greater justification for criminal defamation to be struck off in terms of the new constitution because the provisions for freedom of expression and media freedom under the old constitution were even “weaker or narrower” compared to the ones protected under the new dispensation.
“It is now internationally and domestically recognised that freedom of expression and freedom of the media, as read with the right to access of information are extremely important to the proper functioning of any credible democracy. Resultantly, any law, practice or administrative arrangement that curtails these rights must be impugned, if not outlawed,” reads part of the application filed Wednesday by Chris Mhike, a prominent media and human rights lawyer.
The applicants argued that Section 96 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (Chapter 9:23), is unconstitutional as it does not comply with Sections 61 and 62 of the Constitution and should be struck off.
Sections 61 and 62 of the new Constitution protect the right to freedom of expression, media freedom and access to information.
Moyo has been advocating for the scrapping of defamation laws and this week criticised the abuse of libel laws to arrest and prosecute journalists.
Dozens of local and foreign journalists have been arrested and prosecuted in the past on criminal defamation charges or under the obnoxious Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and this has resulted in media monitors blacklisting Zimbabwe as a dangerous place to practice journalism