AU hails Zim for scrapping criminal defamation law

Fidelis Munyoro Chief Court Reporter
African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has commended the Government for scrapping criminal defamation law from its statutes on the grounds that it violated guarantees of press freedom enshrined in the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

The Constitutional Court ruled last month that criminal defamation law has since its promulgation in 2004, been invalid.

Media Institute of Southern Africa (Zimbabwe Chapter) and Herald Editor Caesar Zvayi had challenged the law in the highest court in the land arguing the law infringed upon journalists’ freedom of expression and media freedom.

The chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa Advocate Pansy Tlakula, wrote to Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister Dr Christopher Mushohwe commending the stance taken by the Government to do away with the repressive law.

“Accordingly, I write to commend the Government of the Republic of Zimbabwe for the recent development towards decriminalisation of laws which limit freedom of expression in Zimbabwe,” said Adv Tlakula.

“Your Excellency, this ruling represents an extremely important victory for freedom of expression in Zimbabwe. Accordingly, I call on Your Government to support the decision of the Constitutional Court in light of the potential of this ruling to promote and protect the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and as elaborated in the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa.”

In a unanimous decision of the Constitutional Court last year, it was resolved that criminalising defamation was in violation of the people’s right to freedom of expression and has an effect of muzzling the media.

The court ruled that suing for defamation damages at the civil court would adequately protect the masses from defamation.

Adv Tlakula said in line with his mandate to report to each Ordinary Session of the Commission on the status of the enjoyment of right to freedom of expression in Africa, the content of his communication to the Government of Zimbabwe would be included in his activity report that would be submitted to 58th Ordinary Session to be held from April 6 to 20 this year.

The commission adopted the resolution on repealing criminal defamation laws in Africa.

It called on State parties to repeal criminal defamation laws which impede freedom of speech and launched the project to decriminalise defamation laws in Africa during its 54th Ordinary Session in October 2012, with the objective to spearhead a campaign to advocate for the repeal or relaxation of laws that criminalise freedom of expression, including criminal defamation, criminal libel, insult laws, sedition laws and laws that prohibit the publication of false news, which have had a particularly negative effect on freedom of expression and media freedom in Africa.

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