LAWYERS have expressed outrage at the closure of Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ), publishers of the top-selling Daily News and Daily News on Sunday, saying the mo
ve was a blatant breach of the fundamental right of freedom of expression.
The Law Society of Zimbabwe said it was “gravely concerned by the closure of the only privately owned daily newspaper, the Daily News”.
“The closure represents a serious breach of the fundamental right to freedom of expression,” the society said. “The existence of independent newspapers is the primary and principal manifestation of pluralism, freedom of expression and thought all of which are prerequisites to the enjoyment of other rights and freedoms which may be guaranteed by any constitution.”
The International Bar Association (IBA) said it was dismayed by the closure of the ANZ and “continued erosion of freedom of expression in Zimbabwe”. It wrote to President Robert Mugabe protesting the ANZ ban.
“The violent closure of the Daily News was another demonstration of the Zimbabwean authorities’ fear of a free and independent press,” the IBA said. “The IBA urges the Zimbabwean authorities to recognise the international and regional standards of freedom of expression and speech and allow the Daily News to resume publishing.”
The Law Society said it was unfortunate that the ANZ was closed prior to the determination of the merits of its constitutional challenge to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa).
“The constitutional challenge is, in terms of the Supreme Court judgement, still pending. Accordingly, the abrupt closure of the newspaper may have the unfortunate effect of undermining the efficacy of a constitutional challenge,” the group said.
“In the respectful view of the Council of the Law Society, recognition of and application of the ‘dirty hands’ doctrine as an obstacle or bar to the determination of the merits of a constitutional challenge imposes a limitation to the enjoyment of freedom of expression.”
The Law Society said taking into account provisions of Section 3 of the constitution, “any law that is inconsistent with the constitution is null and void to the extent of its inconsistency with the constitution even without a declaration of invalidity”.
It also said it was worried about the inordinate delay by the Supreme Court in handing down judgements on Aippa, in particular the Independent Journalists Association of Zimbabwe’s application made in November last year.
The Supreme Court has been too hasty in dealing with the ANZ application and not other challenges to Aippa, raising the suspicion of political factors in its administration of justice, legal groups said.