via ConCourt scraps criminal libel law. newzimbabwe.com 13 June 2014
|THE Constitutional Court has scrapped a criminal defamation law which local journalists say has been used by the government to restrict the freedom of the press.
The judgement delivered on Thursday showed that the full bench of the Constitutional Court agreed that criminalising defamation was harsh and excessive.
“It is not necessary to criminalise defamatory statements,” the ruling said. “Accordingly, it is inconsistent with the freedom of expression guaranteed by (the) constitution.”
Dozens of journalists have been arrested in the past on criminal defamation charges or under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which can be grounds for banning foreign reporters from working permanently in the country.
Journalists from privately owned newspaper The Standard challenged the law following their arrest in 2011 for reporting that a hospital owned by businessman and legislator Munyaradzi Kereke was bankrupt and failing to pay its workers.
“(The journalists) have succeeded in demonstrating that the offence of criminal defamation is not reasonably justifiable in a democratic society on any of the grounds mentioned in Section 20(2) of the Constitution,” said Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku.
“In the result, the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs is hereby called upon, if he so wishes, to show cause why Section 96 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act should not be declared to be in contravention of Section 20(1) of the former Constitution.”
The chief justice said the media had an important function of disseminating information and facilitating accountability.
“Part and parcel of that role is to unearth corrupt or fraudulent activities, executive and corporate excesses and other wrongdoings that impinge upon the rights and interests of ordinary citizens,” he said.
“It is inconceivable that a newspaper could perform its investigative and informative functions without defaming one person or another.”
The Constitutional Court ruled that any person who felt defamed should approach the civil courts for a resolution and that the criminal defamation law should be struck down.
The court gave the minister of justice a chance to respond and show cause why the law should not be removed.
Last year, the Constitutional Court also scrapped a law against insulting the president that has been used to arrest opponents and critics of 90-year-old leader Robert Mugabe.
Zimbabwe adopted a new constitution last year, which expanded some civil rights as well as freedom of the press, access to information, political choice and activity.