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Jonathan Moyo Plays Free Speech Advocate, Critics Unconvinced

  • Ntungamili Nkomo

Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Information Minister Jonathan Moyo.

Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Information Minister Jonathan Moyo.

Criminal defamation is dead. Long live freedom of expression!

That declaration from Information Minister, Jonathan Moyo, a man critics consider an arch enemy of press freedom and freedom of speech.

Moyo laid into the Constitutional Court on Monday for appearing conflicted and creating ambiguity around the issue of criminal defamation, which it found unconstitutional last year.

The law has long been used to muzzle journalists and citizens who criticize politicians, mainly President Robert Mugabe, and the well-connected.

The court said last week it had found criminal defamation illegal under the old constitution, leaving the impression that the law remains valid under the new charter.

But Moyo disagreed. “It cannot be constitutionally correct to say that, although criminal defamation violated the former Constitution right from the beginning or from the time it was enacted into law, it is nevertheless still valid as an offence because it has not been tested against the provisions of the new Constitution,” Moyo said in an opinion piece.

“Such an argument is wholly untenable because it is tantamount to saying that the new Constitution has the force and effect of resurrecting dead laws.”

Moyo's response provoked mixed reactions, with broadcast media trainer Zenzele Ndebele expressing skepticism over Moyo’s "newly-found advocacy" for free speech.