HARARE – Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs minister, has defended an insult law that outlaws mocking the President and communicating of falsehoods, claiming it is justifiable in a democratic society.
Mnangagwa was responding to the Constitutional Court’s decision to have insult laws and communication of falsehoods declared unconstitutional.
The court made the ruling following an appeal by Alpha Media Holdings journalists Constantine Chimakure, Vincent Kahiya and Bulawayo-based visual artist Owen Maseko, accused of publishing or communicating a false statement prejudicial to the State and insulting the president respectively.
The minister was summoned to court last month to defend the two statutes.
Maseko approached the Constitutional Court, seeking stay of prosecution, after being arrested for publishing “offensive” Gukurahundi paintings.
Mnangagwa, who was represented by Chris Mutangadura, said writing falsehoods about the uniformed forces and the president affects the safety of the public and might result in public disorder.
“Given that a private citizen has a right to reputation, the office of the President as headed by him personally may be diminished if the head is savaged falsely,” Mnangagwa said.
He added that, “insulting and undermining the president automatically has the corresponding effect of causing breach of public order and public safety.”
Mnangagwa said defamatory statements about the president were not part of the core values of freedom of expression.
“In fact it is here argued that public morality abhors the insulting and undermining of a head of state,” Mnangagwa averred. “What is moral is governed on the societal norms. The Zimbabwean society is premised upon the general need to subject a popularly elected leader to contempt and ridicule.
“The rationale for having this offence is not strange if properly juxtaposed with the rationale behind the offence of scandalising the court. It is thus submitted that the law criminalising undermining or insulting the president is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.”
Mnangagwa said the Constitutional Court grossly erred in ruling in favour of Chimakure, Kahiya and Maseko.
Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku yesterday postponed the matter indefinitely to allow Maseko, Chimakure and Kahiya’s lawyers to respond to Mnangagwa’s heads of argument.