Criminal defamation laws rapped

HARARE - Press freedom groups have roundly condemned people abusing criminal defamation laws to suppress media freedom in Zimbabwe.

This follows the arrest of Stanley Gama, the Group Editor of Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ), the publishers of the Daily News, and senior writer Fungi Kwaramba, at the instigation of controversial businessman, Kamal Khalfan, over stories linking the Omani citizen to underhand deals in Zimbabwe.

Nhlahla Ngwenya, Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) director, said it had become a habit for well-placed people in Zimbabwe to use criminal defamation charges to cover their backs.

“We condemn in the strongest terms the presence of archaic statutes in light of the new constitution which provides for media practitioners to operate in Zimbabwe without undue hindrances,” Ngwenya said.

“What worries us is that these statutes are being used by the elite to try and insulate themselves from robust media scrutiny.”

Khalfan, who owns Catercraft among other businesses, has already sued the Daily News for a whopping $10 million in a civil lawsuit before the country’s High Court, bringing under the spotlight the controversial and draconian Criminal Defamation law which the government says Daily News editor arrested it wants scrapped as it infringes on human rights.

Michael Chideme, Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) president, said the union was against people who abuse the law to silence alternative voices in the country.

“It is an outdated law and should be removed from the statutes that govern operations of journalists,” Chideme said.

“We condemn, in strongest terms, the arrest of journalists to silence them. Any aggrieved party should follow the civil route not the criminal defamation one.”

Information, Media and Broadcasting Services minister, Jonathan Moyo also lambasted powerful and well-connected individuals who use the police to arrest journalists in cases which, he says, should be solved at the civil courts.

Brian Mangwende, the chairman of the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum (Zinef), said Khalfan should have first exhausted alternative civil routes for recourse.

“As Zinef we condemn all forms of intimidation and attack on media practitioners,” Mangwende said.

“The aggrieved party should have exhausted all channels of mediation including approaching the VMCZ for recourse instead of using archaic methods which are now internationally unaccepted with issues that can otherwise be resolved in a civilised manner.

“However we believe in the justice system of Zimbabwe and we expect the law to take the call in a free, fair and balanced manner as usual when it comes to cases regarding criminal defamation against journalists”.

Loughty Dube, the VMCZ executive director,  said such undemocratic tendencies by political leaders and well-connected individuals were regrettable.

“The preference of criminal defamation charges against journalists and media houses is patently undemocratic and can only be viewed as an affront to the right to freedom of expression and access to information that is guaranteed in Zimbabwe’s new constitution,” Dube said.

“We urge the police to desist from invoking criminal defamation charges against the media at the instigation of powerful and connected individuals in society.”

Dube said such cases were unnecessarily straining the already overburdened justice and legal system.

The State-appointed Zimbabwe Media Commission chairman Godfrey Majonga was unreachable for comment.

Comments (1)

I would like to extend my gratitude to the Minister of Information, Professor Jonathan Moyo for exposing the salarygate scandal which opened up a pandora's box of corruption in other parastatals and local government authorities. One step further is still needed in putting AIPPA and POSA in the dust bin where they belong. Help the nation on that one Cde Prof.

Dr Know - 9 April 2014

Post a comment

Readers are kindly requested to refrain from using abusive, vulgar, racist, tribalistic, sexist, discriminatory and hurtful language when posting their comments on the Daily News website.
Those who transgress this civilised etiquette will be barred from contributing to our online discussions.
- Editor

Your email address will not be shared.