Matemadanda presidential insult case withdrawn

HARARE - Prosecutors yesterday dropped charges of undermining the authority of the president against war veterans’ leader Victor Matemadanda, reflecting greater judicial independence under new President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Matemadanda — who was represented by leading rights attorney Beatrice Mtetwa — was a strident critic of former president Robert Mugabe who was pressured to resign by the army and ruling Zanu PF party a fortnight ago after 37 years in power.

Matemadanda, along with other executive members of his war veterans association, were arrested in July last year for allegedly penning a damning communiqué that denounced Mugabe for running down the country, being divisive and manipulative in general.

The insult laws, which have rarely been used against Zanu PF members, trailed several of Mnangagwa’s tough-talking allies before Mnangagwa ascended to president.

Matemadanda was charged for insulting the president.

He faced up to 20 years in jail if convicted.

When he appeared before Harare magistrate Josephine Sande for routine remand hearing yesterday, the State withdrew the case.

“We are withdrawing the case before plea because PG (prosecutor general) is yet to peruse the document. If there is need, the accused will be summoned,” said prosecutor Franscisca Mukumbiri.

A close ally of Mnangagwa, Matemadanda had argued in his bail application that “the history of this matter shows the extent to which some laws are being used as a weapon of intimidating the citizens of Zimbabwe.”

“The seriousness of the intimidation is that it curtails the right of the citizens to fully enjoy their constitutionally enshrined rights and in this case the right to freedom of expression as protected in section 61 of the Constitution.

“…such laws do not have a place in our constitutional democracy. In making the press statement, applicant was exercising his freedom of expression right…and has been held to embrace the right and freedom to hold, impart and disseminate ideas to others, even if such ideas are unpalatable to those who hear them.

“The right is also protected in the context of political commentary notwithstanding the tone of political debates.”