MORE than 60 Zimbabweans have over the past three years been arrested and charged with insulting President Robert Mugabe.
Report by Feluna Nleya
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), a non-governmental organisation that has provided legal assistance to several of the people arrested, has blasted the law under which the people were arrested and charged, saying it was tantamount to criminalisation of freedom of speech.
In a statement released at the weekend to mark World Press Freedom Day, ZLHR said Zimbabwe was still saddled with repressive media and criminal laws that were either too broad or vague despite committing itself to international, continental and sub-regional standards and principles advocating media freedom.
The human rights group said other repressive laws continued to be abused and selectively applied against targeted civil society organisations and human rights defenders. “It is disturbing to note an increase in the criminalisation of free speech through the abuse of insult laws, wherein ZLHR has recorded 60 cases in which Section 33 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act has been arbitrarily applied on individuals and charged with allegedly ‘insulting or undermining the authority of the President’ since 2010,” ZLHR said.
The ZLHR’s worrying statistics came at a time when MDC-T youth chairman Solomon Madzore is in custody after he was arrested for allegedly insulting Mugabe at an MDC-T rally in Mashonaland Central province last month.
Other MDC-T senior officials who have been brought to court over similar allegations include party spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Jameson Timba, deputy Transport, Communications and Infrastructure Development minister Morgan Komichi and Energy and Power Development minister Elton Mangoma.
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Ordinary Zimbabweans, including simple villagers, have also been arrested and arraigned before the courts for the same reason.
They include Regis Kandawasvika, a Chiredzi man who allegedly threw an object at Mugabe’s portrait last year, apparently over bitterness about his joblessness which he blamed on the President.
According to ZLHR, Mashonaland Central province tops the list of cases of people that have fallen in trouble for allegedly insulting the Zanu PF leader. Most of the cases were pending with only two having been finalised and the accused persons acquitted.
ZLHR has since referred some of the cases to the Supreme Court where the organisation’s lawyers were challenging the constitutionality of the sections of the law under which Zimbabweans were being charged.