The Zimbabwean Supreme Constitutional Court on Wednesday ruled that criminal defamation laws are unconstitutional as the laws go against the press freedom provided by the country’s constitution.
The court’s panel of nine judges, led by Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, ruled that all laws assigning criminal penalties to defamation contradict guarantees of press freedom enshrined in Zimbabwe’s constitution, according to press reports.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in a statement issued in New York, expressed satisfaction with the judgment, saying it is a welcome step toward safeguarding press freedom.
“This is an important victory for freedom of expression in Zimbabwe.
“The government has too often resorted to criminal defamation to muzzle independent journalists,” said CPJ’s deputy executive director, Robert Mahoney.
According to press reports, the ruling was in response to a lawsuit 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.