WHILE welcoming Wednesday’s double Constitutional Court’s unanimous rulings that invalidated some sections of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, human rights activists have called for the repeal of all repressive legislation in line with the new constitution which guarantees freedom of expression and of the media.
In the first case in which Alpha Media Holdings editors Vincent Kahiya and Constantine Chimakure allegedly published falsehoods in 2009, Deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba ruled that Zimbabwe’s punitive defamation law is unconstitutional as it infringes on freedom of expression.
The charges relate to a story written by Chimakure, then news editor at the Zimbabwe Independent, which fingered security agents in the abduction of political and human rights activists, including Jestina Mukoko.
The story, under the headline CIO, police role in activists’ abduction revealed, went on to name some of the operatives said to have been involved in the abductions.
Sections 31(a)(iii) and 33(a)(ii) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (Chapter 9:23) were cited.
In the second case, the same court declared as unconstitutional the same sections as they were in contravention of Sections 20(1), 19(1) and 18(1) of the former Constitution of Zimbabwe.
This was in a matter brought to the courts by Bulawayo-based artist Owen Maseko who was arrested for staging an exhibition in Bulawayo depicting the 1980s Matabeleland massacres known as Gukurahundi carried out by the Fifth Brigade.
Maseko was accused of undermining the authority of or insulting the president and causing offence to persons of a particular race or religion.
Human Rights Watch senior researcher Dewa Mavhinga said the judgments were isolated cases in a country with many laws deemed restrictive.
“It’s a flash in the pan which must be viewed cautiously,” Mavhima said. Nevertheless, it is a refreshing and welcome development.”
Another analyst Charles Mangongera echoed Mavhima’s sentiments saying government should move on to repeal other restrictive pieces of legislation.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction, but there are still more laws on our statutes that are ultra vires (beyond the legal power or authority) to the constitution and need to be repealed or amended,” Mangongera said.