Zimbabwe ambassador defamed by strip claim

Zimbabwe's outgoing ambassador has won a defamation case against ''an agent of the Mugabe regime'' who said she stripped in front of embassy staff.

Zimbabwe Ambassador Jacqueline Zwambila at the Zimbabwe Embassy in O'Malley. Photo: Jeffrey Chan  Read more: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/zimbabwe-ambassador-defamed-by-strip-claim-20131222-2ztb4.html#ixzz2oIf6RakD
Zimbabwe Ambassador Jacqueline Zwambila at the Zimbabwe Embassy in O’Malley. Photo: Jeffrey Chan Read more: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/zimbabwe-ambassador-defamed-by-strip-claim-20131222-2ztb4.html#ixzz2oIf6RakD

A Canberra judge has struck out the defence offered by freelance journalist Panganai Reason Wafawarova, who argued his report was true and in the public interest.

Zimbabwean state-run newspaper The Herald published the claims made about the ambassador, Jacqueline Zwambila, in November 2010, saying she had disrobed in front of three staff during a heated argument.

Some regard stripping naked as a traditional protest to shame an opponent, and the allegation would be seen by them to suggest that Ms Zwambila was uncivilised.

Wafawarova then republished the article on his personal website.

The Australian also published Wafawarova's claims about the then newly appointed envoy days after The Herald printed them.

An incensed Ms Zwambila launched a lawsuit against The Australian's publisher, News Limited, and Wafawarova in 2011.

Court papers say Wafawarova was motivated out of malice as an ''agent of the Mugabe regime, which opposes the [Ms Zwambila] and her party''.

She also claimed damages for The Australian's ''negligent journalism, in that it failed to contact the [ambassador] before publishing the item to attempt to verify such serious allegations about a person of her standing''.

The ambassador was a political activist with Morgan Tsvangirai's opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, and was appointed under a power-sharing deal with Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.

Ms Zwambila first demanded an apology and a retraction, and then took legal action when both the newspaper and Wafawarova ignored her requests.

Represented by Canberra law firm Ben Aulich and Associates, she sought damages for ''the particular shame she suffered, as a Zimbabwean national aware of her country's cultural values and sexual mores, at being portrayed as she was''.

''The plaintiff has been greatly injured in her credit, reputation, and profession as a diplomat, and has been brought into public scandal, odium, and contempt,'' a statement of claim filed in court said.

She reached a confidential settlement with The Australian in March 2011. But Wafawarova tried to defend his reporting, arguing the allegations were true, an opinion, fair comment and in the public interest.

He also argued the circumstances of publication meant Ms Zwambila was unlikely to sustain any harm.

The case stalled after Wafawarova repeatedly flouted court orders by failing to provide documents relevant to the case.

On Friday Justice Hilary Penfold upheld an application by Ms Zwambila's lawyers to have his defence struck out.

A hearing will now be held in April to decide the amount that Wafawarova must pay the ambassador.

Mr Aulich said his client was delighted by the triumph.

‘‘She has advised that she finally feels vindicated and she can leave her official duty with her integrity intact,’’ Mr Aulich said.

‘‘This sort case would not have even got to court in Zimbabwe.

‘‘Ambassador Zwambila hopes that one day Zimbabwe will have a rule of law like Australia.’’

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  1. Sipho Mabaleka
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