All laws assigning criminal penalties to defamation contradict guarantees of press freedom enshrined in Zimbabwe’s constitution, a panel of nine judges led by Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku ruled on Wednesday.
The panel ruled that the criminal defamation laws are unconstitutional in response to a suit brought by the Zimbabwean branch of the Media Institute of Southern Africa and four journalists – Nqaba Matshazi, Godwin Mangudya, Sydney Saize, and Rodger Stringer – who were individually arrested on charges of defaming politicians in 2011.
“Today’s ruling by Zimbabwe’s Supreme Constitutional Court that the country’s criminal defamation laws are unconstitutional is a welcome step toward safeguarding press freedom,” the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Feb. 3, 2016.
Its Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney said “This is an important victory for freedom of expression in Zimbabwe. The government has too often resorted to criminal defamation to muzzle independent journalists.”