Zimbabwe: Constitutional court ruling in favour of artistic freedom of expression

On 29 October 2013, a constitutional court in Zimbabwe found provisions of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act to be unconstitutional. As Free-Art-Zim describes it below, this is a victory for the freedom of creative expression in the country.


This development confirms the long-held view by artistic freedom and human rights defenders that the laws governing freedom of creative expression in Zimbabwe were repressive and a violation of fundamental civil liberties due to citizens in general and artists in particular, as provided for by the constitution and regional instruments on freedom of expression.

The judgment, which has come as the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression Pansy Tlakula is pushing for decriminalisation of free expression on the African continent, creates a strong legal precedence against which the democratisation of freedom of expression laws can be anchored.

As it relates to freedom of creative expression, the ruling followed a constitutional challenge by Owen Maseko v AG. Maseko was charged under Section 31(a) (i) and Section 33(a)(ii) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. Section 31 (a)(i) criminalises the inciting or promotion of public disorder or public violence or endangering public safety, while Section 33(a)(ii) makes it a criminal offence to “cause hatred, contempt, or ridicule of the President or
Acting President, whether in person or in respect of the President’s Office.”

Maseko charges stemmed from his exhibition of his artistic work on the Gukurahundi episode.

The constitutional court found the above mentioned provisions to be inconsistent with the constitution and called on the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to present himself before the same court on 20 November 2013 to show cause why the provisions should not be struck off on the country’s statutes.

Call for liberalisation of the creative space
It is Free-Art-Zim’s hopes that the respective minister will readily concur with the observations of the court and thereby allow for the liberalisation of the creative space and the full exercise of artists’ right to freedom of creative expression.

Free-Art-Zim is the Observatory for freedom of creative expression in Zimbabwe.

Source: NPAAC Newsletter, December 2013 issue

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