HARARE - In a far-reaching ruling, the Constitutional Court yesterday quashed once and for all the country’s notorious criminal defamation law, saying the statute was invalid even under Zimbabwe’s new Constitution.
This followed an application by the Zimbabwe chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa), which highlighted the harmful consequences of criminal defamation on freedom of expression in the country.
Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, sitting with eight other judges, ruled that the law had been invalid since it was promulgated in 2004 — after Vernanda Munyoro from the Attorney General’s office agreed with Thembinkosi Magwaliba, who was representing Misa Zimbabwe, that the statute was void.
“In light of the concession made by the first and third respondents (Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa and Attorney General Prince Machaya), the application is granted,” Chidyausiku said.
“Having been declared as inconsistent with Section 20 (1) of the former Constitution in the judgment of this honourable court in (Nevanji) Madanhire and another versus the Attorney General CC2/15, Section 96 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (Chapter 9:23) was not an existing law as defined in Section 1 of the 6th schedule of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
“Accordingly, for the avoidance of doubt, Section 96 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act is void and not part of the said enactment,” the full bench of the Con-Court added.
Speaking to journalists soon after the ruling, Magwaliba said, “The effect of the judgment is to remove the uncertainty about the existence of the crime of criminal defamation”
In its application, Misa Zimbabwe had argued that Section 96 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act was unconstitutional, as it failed to comply with Sections 61 and 62 of the Constitution which protected the rights of freedom of expression, media freedom and access to information.
Misa Zimbabwe had also insisted that criminal defamation was an undemocratic law that was simply used as a tool to muzzle the media by public officials.
“It is now internationally and domestically recognised that freedom of expression and freedom of the media, as read with the right to access of information are extremely important to the proper functioning of any credible democracy,” part of its application read.