ConCourt praised for ‘overdue’ rulings on repressive laws

Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court is receiving widespread praise for moving to scrap controversial repressive laws, used repeatedly to stifle freedom of expression and freedom of the media.

Deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba on Wednesday rebuked state prosecutors for abusing the country’s insult laws, which have seen over 70 people facing legal action since 2010 for allegedly ‘undermining’ the authority of the President.

Malaba, while commenting on an ‘insult’ case before the ConCourt, admonished the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) “against prosecuting matters in which statements were uttered in drinking halls and other social places, as the pursuit of such frivolous matters only served to bring disrespect on the Office of the President.”

The case, brought by Bulawayo resident Tendai Danga, was on Wednesday struck off the court roll after the NPA withdrew the charges of ‘insulting the President’. Danga was arrested two years during an argument with a policeman in a bar, during which he was accused of referring to Robert Mugabe in an ‘insulting’ manner.

On Wednesday Justice Malaba also moved to challenge the constitutionality of other sections of the Criminal Law Act, including one used arrest to journalists on allegations of publishing ‘falsehoods’. He made the ruling in a case in which two journalists challenged the Act, under which they were prosecuted.

"A law cannot be used to restrict the exercise of freedom of expression under the guise of protecting public order when what is protected is not public order," Malaba said.

Malaba, ruling on another matter, also called on the Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa to appear in court to show cause why some sections of the Criminal Law Act are not unconstitutional, as successfully argued by Bulawayo artist Owen Maseko.

Maskeo approached the ConCourt to declare as unconstitutional laws infringing on artists’ rights to free expression and freedom of conscience, particularly freedom of thought as guaranteed in the Constitution.

Nixon Nyikadzino, a human rights campaigner with the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, said the developments in the ConCourt on Wednesday were welcome, but overdue.

“I’m excited, but there is caution in my excitement. We have yet to see if the ConCourt is just dangling a carrot just by quashing some provisions of the Criminal Law Act. I would like to see a wholesale repeal of all unconstitutional laws,” Nyikadzino said. – SW Radio Africa News

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