via Civil society urges govt to review laws, not oppose court ruling | The Zimbabwean 04.11.13 by Crisis Publications
CIVIL Society has urged the Zimbabwean Government not to oppose the repeal of sections of infamous criminal laws, which have been infringing on citizens’ free expression, after the Constitutional Court (Concourt) ruled them unconstitutional on Wednesday, October 30.
A full bench of the Concourt ruled that the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act’s Sections 31(a) (iii) and 33 (a) (ii), which criminalize publishing and communicating false-hoods detrimental to the State, and undermining the authority of the President respectively, were unconstitutional.
The court gave Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, until November 20 to show any cause why they must not be scrapped.
Civil society said there was no reason for government to op-pose the ruling that seeks to repeal these laws.
Nhlanhla Ngwenya, the Director of Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe Chapter (MISA-Zimbabwe), said the ruling “creates a higher chance” that the laws will be scrapped as Zimbabweans wait for the government to re-spond to the court in 20 days.
Ngwenya said Zimbabweans have always been against the stringent laws.
“These laws are the ones that media groups and Zimbabweans in general have been calling to be scrapped,” Ngwenya said. “We hope that the government will see logic in the ruling by the constitutional court.”
“The most sensible thing will be to respect the Constitutional Court’s provisional ruling.”
Ngwenya said some provisions in Section 31 of the Code had been earlier on ruled to be in violation of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, after MISA-Zimbabwe and other media organisations approached the African Commis-sion in 2005.
They were part of the Public and Order and Security Act (POSA) and Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) before the two equally infamous laws were revised in 2008.
“Instead of repealing the laws completely, they brought them to a different Act, under Section 31 of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act,” Ngwenya said. “Our hope is that the government will not employ the same deceitful tactics.
“They must come up with new laws that conform to the constitution.”
Ngwenya said the existence of the laws impinged on freedom of expression as a lot of journalists had been arrested without being convicted on the pretext of following the law.
He said the arrests showed that the laws were being used to intimidate journalists, who end up not doing their work freely because they are afraid of jail.
Ngwenya said the Concourt ruling together with comments by Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister Jona-than Moyo to the effect that defamation laws must be scrapped should signal “the first and firm step” towards media free-doms, and aligning laws with the new Constitution.
Jeremiah Bhamu, a human rights lawyer, instructed the defense counsel that represented visual artist Owen Maseko in one of the two cases, which challenged the provisions, particularly Section 31 (a) iii at the Concourt.
Bhamu said he would “hold his breath” to see whether, or how the government will respond, but urged the government not to oppose the ruling.
“We urge the minister to congratulate the court and not to present any contrary submissions,” Bhamu said. “It is the duty of the Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs ministry to align laws with the new constitution.
“They should actually thank the constitutional court for showing them the laws which must be aligned with the new constitution.” Many Zimbabweans have been arrested supposedly for insulting President Robert Mugabe under the insult law.
The case challenging the constitutionality of Section 33 (a) ii of the law that has seen many journalists arrested was brought to the Concourt by journalists Constantine Chimakure and Vincent Kahiya, after they had been charged under the law.