Constitutional Court Rules That “Criminal Defamation Law Is Invalid”…

Zimbabwe Judges

The Zimbabwe Constitutional Court has ruled that criminal defamation is void at law, particularly Section 96 of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act and that journalists who ‘defame people in the course of their work’ cannot be arrested.

The law, which was instituted in 2004, was struck down by Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku and eight other judges after an application by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Zimbabwe Chapter), NewsDay deputy editor Nqaba Matshazi , freelance journalists Godwin Mangudya, Sydney Saize and Rodger Stringer.

The court case originated in 2011, when a Zimbabwean private newspaper, The Standard, carried an article that questioned whether Zanu PF legislature Munyaradzi Kereke’s medical aid firm was collapsing? A day after the story was published police stormed The Standard newsroom only to find Kereke’s response to allegations that his company’s financial expenditure outweighed its income position. A couple of days later, both the reporter and Editor of the story were arrested and charged with criminal defamation and theft of documents.

The charges of theft were later dropped, but the State chose to pursue that of criminal defamation.

Nevanji Madanhire (the Editor) and Nqaba Matshazi (the reporter) then launched and won a constitutional challenge against the State as to whether ‘criminal defamation’ was constitutional. However, it was later decided that the ruling was unconstitutional based on Zimbabwe’s former constitution, which changed in 2013.

This particular Constitutional court case was a challenge towards its legality based on the New Constitution.

The ruling essentially means that media practitioners can not be arrested and charged for defamation while carrying out their duties, however, they may still be liable if taken to court under a civil lawsuit by the entity that feels defamed.

Check Out This Opinion Piece: The (Confused) State Of Criminal Defamation Law In Zimbabwe

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