Victory for free speech in Zimbabwe

Posted on: 4 Aug 2014

In a victory for free speech, the Zimbabwean Constitutional Court yesterday declared that the criminal law prohibition on publishing "false statements" was unconstitutional.

The relevant provision, Section 31 (a) (iii) of the Criminal Law Codification Reform Act, made the reporting of false news that would undermine public confidence in the uniformed forces a crime punishable with a high fine as well as a prison sentence of up to 20 years. The Court ruled that this violated the right to freedom of expression and was not reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.

The ruling by the Constitutional Court followed an appeal by two Zimbabwean journalists, Constantine Chimakure, a former editor at the Zimbabwe Independent, and Vincent Kahiya, the group editor-in-chief, who were prosecuted after publishing a story in which intelligence and police officials were identified as being involved in the abduction of opposition and human rights activists in 2008. 

This development is particularly favourable to independent journalists working in Zimbabwe, who in the past have been prosecuted for publishing "false news".