Defamation law struck down

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THE Constitutional Court (Concourt) yesterday struck down criminal defamation in a major victory for freedom of speech.

CHARLES LAITON
SENIOR COURT REPORTER

Section 31 (a) (iii) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act that was routinely used by law enforcement agents to harass journalists was ruled unconstitutional.

Deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba issued the order in agreement with the rest of the Concourt bench after Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa failed to justify why the legislation should not be removed from the statutes.

Justice Malaba said: “On January 15 2014, Chris Mutangadura — who represented the minister — indicated that it was no longer the intention of the minister to oppose the confirmation of the rule nisi,” he said.

“There was, therefore, no need of hearing the applicants on the question of the confirmation of the rule nisi.

“This order of the court was reserved to allow the court time to prepare this opinion, to give guidance on what is expected of a minister who is called upon by the court to show cause why an enactment, the constitutional validity of which is challenged, should not be declared to be in contravention of the fundamental human right of freedom.”

“The order of the court is as follows; it is ordered that Section 31 (a) (iii) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act was in contravention of Section 20(1) of the former Constitution.

“The respondent (Attorney-General) is to pay costs of the main application as well as the cost relating to the confirmation of the rule nisi.”

The ruling follows an application by former NewsDay editor Constantine Chimakure, Alpha Media Holdings group-editor-in-chief Vincent Kahiya, Zimbabwe Independent publishers and sculpture Owen Maseko who had challenged their prosecution under the piece of legislation.

The applicants had been charged for allegedly publishing falsehoods prejudicial to the State. The offence carried a 20-year jail term.

The Concourt bench last November delivered a landmark ruling and called for the invalidation of the law on the basis that it contravened Section 20 (1) of the Constitution.

The court then called Mnangagwa to appear before it “to show cause why” the section of the code should not be invalidated.

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