Zimbabwean Energy Minister and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change deputy treasurer Elton Mangoma was Friday acquitted on charges of insulting President Robert Mugabe.
Mangoma was arrested in October last year and charged with contravening Section 33 (2) (a) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
His purported crime? On May 18 last year at an MDC-T political meeting he addressed at Manhenga Business Center in Bindura, Mashonaland Central Province, he allegedly uttered the words “Chifa Mugabe chifa. Chibva Mugabe chibva.” Loosely translated from the vernacular Shona language, that means “Pass on Mugabe and Go now”.
Mangoma was fortunate. Bindura magistrate Tendayi Chifamba acquitted him, citing lack of evidence. Other Zimbabweans arrested under this law have not been so lucky.
Great Zimbabwe State University lecturer Chenjerai Pamhiri was sentenced to three months in jail last Friday for allegedly calling Mr. Mugabe a “rotten old donkey.” Zimbabwe now has a new constitution which enshrines freedom of speech as a fundamental right.
However, constitutional law expert Lovemore Madhuku, chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly, told VOA that the new constitution will not offer any reprieve to those found guilty of violating the law against insulting President Mugabe.
The issue is not trivial. Several senior MDC ministers and Members of Parliament accused of insulting the president have cases pending in the courts.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights is handling most of the more than 60 cases seen in the past 3 years.
ZLHR director Irene Petras said they have challenged the legality of the Mugabe insult laws.