Criminal defamation valid

Daniel Nemukuyu Senior Court Reporter
Criminal defamation will remain a valid law in Zimbabwe after the Constitutional Court yesterday clarified that its celebrated judgment of 2014 only ruled the law to be in violation of the Old Constitution and not the new supreme law.

The highest court in the land, through Justice Bharat Patel, issued a declaratory order that agreed with Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa’s submissions that the judgment in the case of Standard journalists Nevanji Madanhire and Nqaba Matshazi was made only in relation to the old Constitution.

The judgment issued last year was wrongly interpreted by many journalists who celebrated the outcome believing that it was the end of the most feared media law.

Justice Patel’s declaratory order reads:

“In the result, it is declared that Section 96 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act is inconsistent with and in contravention of Section 20(1) of the former Constitution.

“It is ordered that the prosecution of the applicants in respect of the charge of criminal defamation, being count 2 in the proceedings under CRB Number 8020-21/11, be permanently stayed.

“There shall be no order as to costs.”

This means journalists are not yet free from criminal defamation until someone challenges the constitutionality of the law in terms of the new Constitution.

The judgment in question was issued in a case in which former Standard newspaper editor Nevanji Madanhire and reporter Nqaba Matshazi, who were charged with criminally defaming Green Card chairperson Dr Munyaradzi Kereke decided to contest the law’s constitutionality.

In July last year the Constitutional Court unanimously ruled that Section 96 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act must be struck off the statutes because it was not a justifiable law in a democratic society like Zimbabwe.

The court invited Minister Mnangagwa to defend the law if he so wished, before a final declaration was passed.

The minister, in his affidavit, said the judgment declaring criminal defamation undemocratic only related to the old Constitution and that the law should remain until it has been condemned in terms of the new supreme law.

Minister Mnangagwa said he had no objections to the striking down of criminal defamation in terms of the old Constitution.