Zimbabwe: Visual artist challenges charges of insulting president

The use of insult-laws to criminalise freedom of expression by president Robert Mugabe’s administration was under focus on 30 October 2013 when the Constitutional Court heard a challenge brought before the highest court by persecuted visual artist Owen Maseko, reported Radio VOP.


Bulawayo-based Owen Maseko is described as one of the Zimbabwe’s most talented artists. He faces charges of insulting President Robert Mugabe through “offensive” paintings. Radio VOP reported:

“Maseko, who has been a target of State security agents, wants the Constitutional Court to assert the right of artists to free expression as he feels that they are being breached by some sections of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
Some of his most prominent works – such as paintings recollecting the 1980s military killings of at least 20,000 people in Midlands and Matabeleland regions – have angered authorities. The paintings of the Gukurahundi massacres, as well as their exhibition, landed him a six-­day stint in police cells in March 2010 but he has continued resisting attempts to stifle the work of artists. (…) His exhibition, which showcases paintings that explored the torture and massacres that characterized the civil unrest known as Gukurahundi, was forcibly shut down.”

The Zimbabwe Mail / Radio VOP – 29 October 2013:
ConCourt Hears Maseko’s Challenge of Insult Laws

Owen Maseko speaks at Oslo Freedom Forum 2013, ‘Painting a Massacre’.
Published on youtube.com on 10 June 2013.

“Owen Maseko (born in 1974 or 1975) is a Zimbabwean visual artist and installation artist, described as “one of Zimbabwe’s most prominent artists”.

In March 2010, he was arrested “less than 24 hours after his new exhibition opened” at the National Gallery in Bulawayo. His works referred to the massacres of Ndebele civilians during the Gukurahundi in the 1980s, carried out by forces loyal to Robert Mugabe. The exhibition, called ‘Sibathontisele’ (‘Let’s Drip On Them’), consisted in “three installations and twelve paintings”.

Maseko was charged, under the Public Order and Security Act, with “undermining the authority” of President Robert Mugabe. He was also charged with “causing offence to persons of a particular race or religion”. The charges carried a possible twenty-year prison sentence.

He was granted bail. In September, his trial was postponed pending consideration by the Supreme Court as to “whether criminalising creative arts infringes on the freedom of expression and freedom of conscience”, as guaranteed by the Constitution. A magistrate granted an application to the Supreme Court on constitutional grounds, and on the grounds that Maseko’s art depicted events which had unquestionably happened.

Maseko was second runner up for the Freedom to Create Prize in 2010, for his exhibition on the Gukurahundi killings.”

Owen Maseko’s profile in Wikipedia, the open encyclopedia:

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