WASHINGTON DC —
MISA Zimbabwe has strongly condemned the arrest of Daily News editor Stanley Gama and the paper’s senior writer Fungi Kwaramba on Monday following a police report by businessman Kamal Khaltan.
Their arrest was reportedly in connection with stories published by the Daily News linking Khaltan to underhand deals in Zimbabwe. The two were questioned by Highlands police in Harare and charged with criminal defamation before signing warned and cautioned statements. They were released a few hours later.
This incident follows the filing of a $10 million civil lawsuit by Khafan over the same issue.
“It is MISA- Zimbabwe’s considered view that there is no place for criminal defamation laws in a democratic society especially where alternative civil remedies are already in place. Criminal defamation borders on the criminalisation of the right to freedom of expression - a fundamental right enshrined in the country’s constitution as well as regional and international instruments on promoting civil liberties,” said MISA in a statement.
The organization said the fact that there are hardly any chances of successful prosecution under criminal defamation laws strengthens the view that such pieces of legislation are simply retained as a tool for public officials to shield themselves from robust media scrutiny.
“It is in this light that MISA-Zimbabwe unreservedly welcomes the progressive response by Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo trashing the arrest and subsequent charges against the two journalists.”
MISA said his observations that criminal defamation has no place in a democratic society, resonate with repeated calls by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, Advocate Pansy Tlakula, on African states to decriminalise expression.
MISA-Zimbabwe called on Moyo and other relevant government bodies to spearhead the repeal of criminal defamation laws as well as other laws that continue to erode citizens’ basic right to freedom of expression and access to information in contravention of the constitution.
“Otherwise failure to urgently do so, will expose their pronouncements as rhetorical expression of intent that is not anchored on genuine desire to democratise the media space and promote freedom of expression.”