Judgment reserved in Zim insult law challenge

via Judgment reserved in Zim insult law challenge | SW Radio Africa by Mthulisi Mathuthu  January 15, 2014

The State’s case against artist Owen Maseko, who is facing charges of ‘undermining’ the authority of President Robert Mugabe through his works, suffered a blow Wednesday after conceding it may not have a case.

The State was seeking to have Maseko found guilty of alleged criminal conduct for exhibiting paintings depicting the 1980s Gukurahundi genocide, during which 20,000 people were massacred in cold blood. He was charged under Zimbabwe’s controversial insult laws, which have been used repeatedly to silence people who are critical of Mugabe.

Also involved in the same hearing Wednesday was former Makoni South MP Pishayi Muchauraya. He is accused of telling a rally that Mugabe is ‘old and suffering from chronic diarrhea’.

According the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), prosecutor Chris Mutangadura on Wednesday conceded before the full bench of the Constitutional Court that the facts as alleged by the State do not reveal that Maseko and Muchauraya committed an offence.

A statement from the ZLHR said Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku reserved his ruling on both cases and advised that the court will hand down a written order.

Maseko was arrested in March 2010 after he exhibited at the Bulawayo National Art Gallery depicting the Gukurahundi. He was charged with undermining the authority of the President and causing offence to persons of a particular race or religion.

The case was then referred to the Constitutional Court after his lawyers argued that criminalising creative arts was an infringement on Maseko’s right to freedom of expression.
The case almost reached its conclusion in October last year when the Court ruled that section 33 of the Criminal Law Act violates the constitution, as argued by Maseko.

Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa then filed an affidavit defending those insult laws. This was after the court had asked him to prove why the laws were not in violation of the constitution. According to the ZLHR there are about 80 cases of people accused of undermining the President’s authority pending in the courts.

Former National Healing Minister Moses Mzila Ndlovu said the issue of the Gukurahundi was a genuine human rights issue and people should be allowed to speak about it.

Ndlovu said ‘no amount of repression’ would stop the people from expressing their views on the Gukurahundi.

Ndlovu, who was speaking on SW Radio Africa’s Cutting Edge programme, said Maseko’s case was not isolated because he was himself once persecuted for speaking out on the issue.

Ndlovu said the fact that the Gukurahundi was now being articulated by people who were not born during the genocide, was an indicator that it could not just be wished away.