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Harare - Zimbabwe's top court has rebuked state prosecutors for abusing the country's controversial insult laws by bringing frivolous cases against critics of veteran leader Robert Mugabe, rights lawyers said Thursday.
The Constitutional Court judge Luke Malaba “admonished” the prosecution authority against “prosecuting matters in which statements were uttered in drinking halls and other social places”.
“The pursuit of such frivolous matters only serves to bring disrespect to the office of the president,” according to the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.
Dozens of cases, including one involving a university lecturer who was prosecuted for labelling Mugabe “a rotten old donkey”, have been heard in the country's courts. Around 80 similar cases are still outstanding.
The judge made the comments in a ruling in a case brought by Tendai Danga who challenged the constitutionality of the law under which he was arrested two years ago during an argument with a policemen in a bar.
During the argument he said: “Who is Mugabe? Fuck you, fuck the president.”
Meantime the same judge also scrapped late Wednesday, a law used to arrest journalists on allegations of publishing false news deemed to endanger state security.
“A law cannot be used to restrict the exercise of freedom of expression under the guise of protecting public order when what is protected is not public order,” he said.
“The very existence of a law authorising criminal prosecution for making a false statement...with the prospect of suffering a sentence of imprisonment up to 20 years, has an unconstitutionally chilling effect on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression,” said Malaba.
He made the ruling in a case in which two journalists from the privately-owned weekly Zimbabwe Independent challenged the so-called criminal law codification act.
Media in Zimbabwe have operated under stringent rules for the last decade, with several newspapers forced to shut down while journalists have been harassed by the police.