My experiences at the hands of the law

HARARE - Rapists, con-artists, fraudsters and convicts have at some point in time appeared in the country’s courts to answer for their evil deeds.

However. I was a regular guest at the courts for over a month simply because of a story I had written — and it was a forgettable experience.

My troubles started early in May, when I received a call from a police officer, who wanted me to report immediately at Highlands Police Station.

It was on a Friday and in these parts of the world it is not wise to hand over oneself to the police on the last day before weekend.

On the phone I had been informed that I was to be charged with criminal defamation — and with a sense of hopelessness and dejection I had to endure the weekend — scared that I could end up incarcerated.

Jointly charged with my editor Stanley Gama,  on the following Monday we both reported to the police station in the company of our lawyer Alec Muchadehama.

“You call yourself an investigative reporter, writing lies when we the police officers are not investigating the matters,” joked the investigating officer.

My fingerprints were taken — in fact the whole palm.

A shocked female police officer who had been ordered to take my prints was curious to know the charges, and I told her that I was being charged with criminal defamation.

She didn’t seem to understand what that meant but went on — taking the finger and palm prints — doing her job.

I signed a warned and cautioned statement denying that I had criminally defamed Oman business tycoon Kamal Khalfan.

As I signed, a senior police officer gave me a stern look that alarmed even our lawyer. “So you are Fungi Kwaramba?” his nerving look seemed to imply.

After he had been admonished by our lawyer the officer apologised good humorously — but my head was already spinning, tumbling into the world of anxiety as so many questions came to my mind, leaving me more scared.

It was only when the investigating officer had ordered us to remove our shoes that I realised I was wearing a mixed pair of socks —  obviously a result of the confusion and fear borne from the chilling prospects of imprisonment.

I saw my editor remove his shoes, his belt and as he was ready to surrender his cell phone and wallet, Muchadehama came to the rescue prompting forced smiles on our part, as a bunch of law enforcement agents looked at us as if we were newly discovered primitive creatures.

The emotional harassment at Highlands Police Station was by no means the highlight of our defamation case — if anything it was the beginning of a frustrating brawl that lasted the magistrate, Milton Serima finally removed us from remand on Thursday last week.

Court dates were shifted, applications were made and media watchdog groups in their usual follow-the-event culture, stringed and rehearsed solidarity messages.

I failed to go to work on some days, as I was at the courts. My work took a knock due to an otherwise simple court case.

Goodwill messages came only on paper but none among the free-media proponents came to the gruelling court sessions, in the end it was the Constitutional Court that rose to the occasion and condemned the law hitherto used by the high-heeled to muzzle free press.

It is trite that Criminal Law has been condemned as a tool for harassing and intimidating journalists, especially from the independent media, but that was coming from ordinary men and women, who cannot ordinarily change the laws.

But the Constitutional Court — threw us a lifeline — and in a flash gave the media fraternity hope. It was an incisive judgment that had those who hide behind criminal defamation sweltering.

Kamal said we had lied, but we knew we hadn’t and the highest court even recognised our role in a democratic society, when in his ruling Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku said “I take the view that the harmful and undesirable consequences of criminalising defamation, viz the chilling possibilities of arrest, detention and two years imprisonment, are manifestly excessive in their effect.”

I personally experienced the “chilling possibility of jail” and when the magistrate last week removed us from remand it was like a load had been lifted off my shoulders.

Hitherto used to writing news on and about other people, I found myself the subject — facing a trial on charges that I think were crafted to put an eternal seal on my mouth.

I marvel when I read the court ruling that, “part and parcel of that role (of the media) 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 Harare Magistrate Courts is an ancient building, therein hard-core criminals have been convicted, and even pastors like Martin Gumbura given prison time, while some lucky ones have escaped on bail, some have been given community service and some like me and Gama were exonerated.

I had no desire to ever set foot on the dock where rapists have been convicted, but then those are the hazards of the profession.

Comments (5)

Just confirm your story before writing like a mad baboon!

Chasura - 23 June 2014

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GALLERYCARTRIDGES - 24 June 2014

kamal khalfan is a crook and a frud man. his only intrest is himself and not anything else. evrey zimbabwen that loves his country and cares about his family should check : how come a man like kamal is living so long time in zim and the only articales that conected to him is corruption and horroble issues that damage zim and evrey true zimbaben reputation. why he was never charged? who is protecting him??! or maybe he is using his trickes and mislead his friends by using his "conasl of Oman" senareio. his paying his stuff less than the min' wage. where is the union? why to let a thief to take atvantge of poor zim workers in this hard times? did any1 knew that he was born in zinzibar originaly!!!! my good zimbabwe friends.this reporter was the only reporter that told the truth about kamal.And look what he did to him. he does not have a regular table and any time and day in the two best resturants in zimbabwe ( victoriea22 & Amanzi) with any one beside him all the night even if they r russain girls , age 19 ,that he flew from SA. any1 can ask about that. ask the waiters. BIG THIEF . GO ANND ask AMC , the motor company 100k.

Ashraf Raslan - 6 December 2014

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