Ruling reserved in Gukurahundi insult case

HARARE - The Attorney General conceded that facts forming criminal charges against Bulawayo-based artist Owen Maseko, accused of insulting President Robert Mugabe, do not constitute an offence, as the Constitutional Court reserved ruling in the matter yesterday.

Maseko approached the Constitutional Court seeking stay of prosecution, after being arrested for publishing “offensive” Gukurahundi paintings.

The Constitutional Court summoned Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa to show cause how the paintings were unconstitutional.

Mnangagwa, through the Attorney General’s office, told the court that the law was justifiable in a democratic society.

Through Chris Mutangadura, the government’s chief law officer, Mnangagwa told the court that “insulting and undermining the President automatically has the corresponding effect of causing breach of public order and public safety.”

He said that defamatory statements about the president were not part of the core values of freedom of expression.

“The rationale for having this offence is not strange if properly juxtaposed with the rationale behind the offence of scandalising the court,” he said.

“It is thus submitted that the law criminalising undermining or insulting the president is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.”

Maseko, one of the country’s most talented artists, through his lawyer Zvikomborero Chadambuka, had told the court that artistic creativity constituted freedom of expression, adding that when that freedom is restricted, courts should always intervene.

“Freedom of expression does not arise by way of State licence. It is a constitutional right,” Chadambuka said.

However, Mutangadura yesterday conceded that facts in Maseko’s case did not constitute an offence, based on the old constitution.

He said he could not make the concessions on record, without getting authority from his superiors, but Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku said he represented the Attorney General’s office and as such was qualified to make a binding concession.

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