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Rights lawyers demand repeal of Mnangagwa insult laws; say oppressive statute used to silence citizens

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By Staff Reporter


ZIMBABWE rights lawyers want the government to repeal the law which criminalises insulting or undermining the authority of the President against citizens who express themselves on matters to do with or connected with him.

In a statement, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said section 33 of the Criminal Code of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act was oppressive.

ZLHR has over recent months recorded an increase in cases of individuals who got arrested and prosecuted on allegations of insulting President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

They complained the Act violates the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the media protected in the constitution.

In addition, they noted this is often justified under the pretext of protecting the dignity of the President’s office.

ZLHR said citizens have the right to express their views whether positive or negative.

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They said hiding behind ‘protection’ of President’s dignity was not a legitimate justification in a constitutional democracy.

“As Zimbabwe draws closer to the 2023 harmonised elections, ZLHR is concerned with the trend of unrelenting use of the crime of insulting the President to muzzle citizens from expressing opinions, both online and offline, on political affairs.

“Considering these concerns, ZLHR urges the government to repeal section 33 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.

“Drop all pending criminal charges brought against individuals under section 33 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act; raise awareness among public officials, including law enforcement officials, prosecutors, the judiciary and others, of the requirement that public figures should tolerate a higher degree of criticism.

“Comply with the obligations to promote, respect, protect and fulfil the right to freedom of expression under the Constitution, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” ZLHR said.

The crime of insulting the President has its roots in the country’s colonial past and a re-enactment of the repressive colonial laws like the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and Law and Order Maintenance Act (LOMA) which were used to suppress civil unrest as the liberation struggle intensified.