The Constitutional Court on Wednesday outlawed Zimbabwe’s criminal defamation law under which several Zimbabwean journalists have been arrested.
Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku delivered the court’s decision outlawing Section 96 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, saying it was unconstitutional, adding that the Constitutional Court would give its reasons in a full written judgment later.
The Constitutional Court ruling means that journalists, who would have defamed people in their reporting, won’t be arrested but affected people may approach the civil courts for recourse.
The Media Institute of Southern Africa and the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists welcomed the court’s decision saying it was an important milestone in promoting freedom of expression in Zimbabwe.
Veteran journalist Ngoni Chanakira said journalists can now do their work freely following the court’s decision.
His views were echoed by freelance journalist Whatmore Makokoba, who said they may be able to now operate without state interfence.
Barnabas Thondlana, editor of The Observer newspaper, said while he welcomes the ruling, there are several laws that hinder the operations of journalists in Zimbabwe that still need to be challenged.
The application challenging the constitutionality of the criminal defamation law was filed by four journalists Nqaba Matshazi, Sydney Saize, Godwin Mangudya and Roger Stringer. The quartet argued that Section 96 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act also clashed with other sections of the constitution that seek to protect the right to freedom of expression, media freedom and access to information.
In 2015, the Constitutional Court struck off the same law from the country’s statute books in relation to the old constitution, resulting in the Zimbabwe Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa to further challenge the law under the country’s constitution adopted in 2013.
Several journalists, such as Nevanji Madanhire and Matshazi, who filed the initial case, were arrested under the law as the government continued its onslaught on journalists, especially in the private media.