Harare - Zimbabwe's highest court has scrapped a criminal defamation law which local journalists say has been used by the government to restrict the freedom of the press, according to a ruling seen by Reuters on Friday.
The judgment delivered on Thursday showed that the full bench of the Constitutional Court agreed that criminalising defamation was harsh and excessive.
“It is not necessary to criminalise defamatory statements,” the ruling said. “Accordingly, it is inconsistent with the freedom of expression guaranteed by (the) constitution.”
Dozens of journalists have been arrested in the past on criminal defamation charges or under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which can be grounds for banning foreign reporters from working permanently in the country.
Journalists from privately owned newspaper The Standard challenged the law following their arrest in 2011 for reporting that a hospital owned by a ruling Zanu-PF member of parliament and businessman was bankrupt and was failing to pay its workers.
The Constitutional Court ruled that any person who felt defamed should approach the civil courts for a resolution and that the criminal defamation law should be struck down.
The court gave the minister of justice a chance to respond and show cause why the law should not be removed.
Last year, the Constitutional Court also scrapped a law against insulting the president that has been used to arrest opponents and critics of 90-year-old leader Robert Mugabe.
Zimbabwe adopted a new constitution last year, which expanded some civil rights as well as freedom of the press, access to information, political choice and activity. - Reuters