In a landmark ruling, the Zimbabwean Constitutional Court on July 22 declared unconstitutional a section of the draconian Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act that criminalizes defamation.
Police detained for several hours a reporter for the independent Daily News on July 3, 2014, local journalists told CPJ. Helen Kadirire was held in Mutoko, a town 143 kilometres (89 miles) east of the capital, Harare, after she started to cover a demonstration by the Mutoko North Development Trust, a local community organization, according to local reports.
Cape Town, South Africa, June 23, 2014--Zimbabwean authorities should drop charges against the editor of the state-controlled Sunday Mail and release him immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
New York, June 13, 2014--The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes Thursday's move by Zimbabwe's Constitutional Court to strike down criminal defamation, saying it is not compatible with the country's new constitution. The court ruled that criminal defamation violated freedom of expression and that civil suits would adequately protect individuals alleging defamation, reports said.
At least two journalists reported being attacked, threatened, and obstructed in January 2014 in Zimbabwe, while a third was summoned to court a year after being charged, according to news reports.
Though general elections in July took place in a significantly more peaceful atmosphere than the 2008 vote, the news media remained dominated by state-owned outlets. Journalists and human rights defenders were frequent targets of physical attacks and brief detentions in the months leading up to the election, which renewed the 33-year grip on power of 89-year-old President Robert Mugabe, giving the ruling party a two-thirds majority which could allow it to make changes to the country's recently approved constitution. No journalists were detained at the time of the elections, but an observer mission of Southern African editors failed to receive media accreditation ahead of the vote. Authorities maintained a tight hold on radio, the principal means of communication for Zimbabweans, most of whom live in rural areas. Though two commercial, urban-based stations were licensed in mid-2012, community radio stations were blocked from the air, and calls for the licensing of additional commercial licenses fell on deaf ears. Despite new constitutional provisions that guarantee media freedom and civil liberties, repressive laws such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Public Order and Security Act, and the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, remained on the books.
With Zimbabwe elections days away, the fight over access to the airwaves has intensified. The media environment has loosened slightly compared with previous years, but most Zimbabweans still lack access to independent sources of news, including radio. One person familiar with obstacles to broadcasting is Zenzele Ndebele, editor of Radio Dialogue, a community radio station based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, founded in 2001.
When Star-FM launched on June 25, 2012, it was the first time in 30 years that Zimbabweans, who have known no other radio besides the state-controlled Radio Zimbabwe, had the chance to call in to a radio station to express their views.
The African Union's special rapporteur on freedom of expression and access to information, Commissioner Pansy Tlakula, has launched an auspicious initiative in East Africa to counter criminal defamation and sedition laws. Since independence, authorities and business interests in the East and Horn region have used criminal laws on sedition, libel, and insult--often relics of former, colonial administrations--to silence their critics in the press. "Criminal defamation laws are nearly always used to punish legitimate criticism of powerful people, rather than protect the right to a reputation," Tlakula said in a statement.
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