Insult laws still being used despite ConCourt criticism

Another Zimbabwean has been charged for allegedly ‘insulting’ the President, coinciding with the Constitutional Court’s strong criticism of the use of the laws.

Honest Makasi, a student at the Great Zimbabwe University, appeared before a Masvingo magistrate last Wednesday for allegedly calling Robert Mugabe a ‘dog’ for failing to fulfill his election campaign promises.

Prosecutor James Nyamapfeni told the court that in September Makasi shouted that “President Mugabe imbwa haasi kukwanisa kuita zvaakataura pamacampaign ainyepera vanhu” (President Mugabe is a dog, failing to do what he promised during campaigns and had lied to the people.)

Makasi is said to be active member of the MDC-T and his lawyers are claiming that he is being victimised for campaigning for his party during the run-up to the July 31st polls.

He will be back in court on November 11th.

The case last Wednesday coincided with the Constitutional Court’s strong criticism of the state’s ongoing use of the insult laws, contained in the Criminal Law Act. The laws have seen over 70 people charged for ‘undermining’ the authority of the President since 2010.

Last week, Deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba rebuked state prosecutors for abusing laws, as part of a series of rulings on Wednesday where he questioned the constitutionality of parts of the Criminal Law Act.

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 ago during an argument with a policeman in a bar, during which he was accused of referring to Robert Mugabe in an ‘insulting’ manner.

Thabani Nyoni, the spokesperson for the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, told SW Radio Africa that Malaba’s criticism of the laws was “a positive step in the right direction.” He said a lot still needs to be done to realign Zimbabwe’s oppressive legislation with the new constitution.

“What is important to understand is that the system is not going to change overnight. But we are on the right track,” Nyoni explained.

He said that the conviction rates using the ‘insult’ laws are very low compared to the numbers of people being charged under the same laws. He said this in itself is enough to question the ongoing use of the laws.

“So parliament still needs to sit and rewrite all these laws to bring them in line with the new constitution. The making of a new constituent is the reconstitution of a whole society, so we are pleased that the ConCourt is making such comments,” Nyoni said. – SW Radio Africa News

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