Zimbabwe Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku

The Zimbabwe’s Supreme Constitutional Court has ruled that the country’s criminal defamation laws are unconstitutional.

The court’s panel of nine judges, led by Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, ruled that all laws assigning criminal penalties to defamation contradict guarantees of press freedom enshrined in Zimbabwe’s constitution.

Media advocacy group, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said the ruling ‘is a welcome step toward safeguarding press freedom.

“This is an important victory for freedom of expression in Zimbabwe,” said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney, adding: “The government has too often resorted to criminal defamation to muzzle independent journalists.”

The ruling was in response to a lawsuit brought by the Zimbabwean branch of the Media Institute of Southern Africa and four journalists – Nqaba Matshazi, Godwin Mangudya, Sydney Saize, and Rodger Stringer – who were individually arrested on charges of defaming politicians in 2011, according to press reports.