HARARE – The Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) commissioner Pansy Tlakula has urged Zimbabwe to adopt the ACHPR’s Access to Information model law.
During the meeting attended by media groups and human rights defenders, Tlakula, who is on a four-day advocacy visit in her capacity as the ACHPR’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, was appraised on the state of the media, freedom of expression and access to information.
She is in Zimbabwe to assess the country’s progress in re-aligning media-related laws with the Constitution.
“In countries like Zimbabwe where you already have an exciting law, there is need to match that to standard international laws and I urge governments in Africa to amend them using the Access to Information Model law,” said Tlakula during a dinner held for her in Harare by Misa-Zimbabwe.
“I have been taking on a number of advocacy visits to several countries mainly to encourage the adoption and encourage State players to use Access to Information Model law for Africa to fashion their laws.”
She singled out Mozambique, Kenya, Malawi and Ghana as some of the countries that have since adopted the ACHPR’s model law by crafting and tabling the requisite bills before their respective Parliaments. Zimbabwe, she said, should also be encouraged to follow suit.
Tlakula said member states were also being encouraged to decriminilise expression and to repeal insult laws.
She said she was in Zimbabwe to support local initiatives.
“No one can come outside Zimbabwe to tell you what to do. I am here to support whatever initiative you have,” she said.
“And I have to make it clear that I am here on an advocacy visit which is different from an official mission from the commission in which I would have written to the Zimbabwean
government to seek for permission.”
She added that during her visit to Zimbabwe, she will look at media reforms and “to see to what extent we can support your initiatives and we will talk to state actors, lawmaker and civil society.”
She will engage the Media minister Christopher Mushohwe, Information Communication Technology minister Supa Mandiwanzira, the parliamentary committees on media and human rights, the Human Rights Commission and civil society groups.
The commissioner said the striking down of criminal defamation by Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court was an encouraging development that prompted her to write a congratulatory message to the government.
Meanwhile, representatives of media groups acknowledged as a positive development the constitutional provisions that now explicitly guarantee media freedom and access to information.
However, the representatives lamented the slow pace and lack of political will to implement media legislative reforms in line with the new constitutional dispensation and the recommendations of the Impi report.
As a result, journalists and citizens continue to be arrested and harassed on the basis of unconstitutional laws that remain in the country’s statutes.
The continued existence of presidential insult laws and threats to control social media also impacted negatively on citizens’ right to free expression.
Concern was also raised on the politicisation of what should constitute a community, thus stalling the licensing of community radio stations.
Other issues related to the transformation of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation into a truly independent broadcaster and the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe’s licensing regimes were also raised.