A man was arrested after telling a man wearing a Zanu-PF T-Shirt he did not like an image of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Farai Gwanza, 32, is set to be charged with the offence of undermining the authority of or insulting Mnangagwa, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said on Monday.
Gwanza, of Dindi Village under Chief Chitsungo in-Pfungwe, Mashonaland East province, “allegedly told a colleague wearing a Zanu-PF party T-shirt that he doesn’t like the picture of the person on it,” the lawyers said.
ZLHR said it would be defending Gwanza – the latest person to be charged with a law which Mnangagwa has previously defended, but which critics say is draconian.
The law was routinely used against critics of former President Robert Mugabe, who was toppled in a military coup in November 2017. Mnangagwa, who replaced him, came in promising legislative and political reforms, but many now say he is worse than Mugabe.
In November 2013, Mnangagwa vainly tried to challenge a Constitutional Court finding that a section of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act that criminalises “undermining of the authority of the President” and communicating falsehoods was unconstitutional.
The Constitutional Court had observed that Section 31(a)(iii) which criminalises publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the State and Section 33(a)(ii) which criminalises undermining the authority of the President had the effect of violating people’s rights and invited Mnangagwa – then the Justice Minister – to justify their existence.
Mnangagwa argued that the laws must stay in the statute books as they were necessary to protect the reputation of the President.
“Is the goal of the protection of reputation of the President and his office a pressing and substantial objective in our society? We submit it is,” he said in an affidavit submitted with the court.
The law is one of many draconian provisions set to fall away when laws are aligned with a new constitution adopted in 2013. The government has been criticised for the slow pace of re-aligning laws with the constitution.