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Victimised for free speech

READERS who deplore the prosecution and conviction of Reason Tafirei of Chitungwiza last week for saying “Mugabe is a dictator who rules by the sword while Tony Blair is a liberator” may be interested by this note sent by form

er British premier Winston Churchill to Home secretary Herbert Morrison (equivalent of our Minister of Justice) on July 19 1941:


I should like to have my opinion put on record that this sentence (of five years’ penal servitude on Miss Elsie Orrin for saying to two soldiers that Hitler was a good ruler, a better man than Churchill) is far too heavy for expressions of opinion, however pernicious, which are not accompanied by a conspiracy. Nothing in the internal state of the country justifies such unreasonable and unnatural severity. I consider such excessive action defeats its own ends.”


Britain was then in a state of declared war with Germany, and Hitler was directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of British servicemen and civilians.


There was also the imminent danger Germany would renew its determined efforts of the previous summer and autumn to invade Britain.


In 1991, Matthew Magodlo was charged under the former Law and Order (Maintenance) Act for shouting during the president’s speech at Heroes Acre: “Those heroes you are talking about died for nothing. (Ian) Smith was better than you are.”


The late Sir Garfield Todd proposed the establishment of a fund to assist those, like Magodlo, whom he believed had been victimised for exercising their constitutional right of free speech.


In Tafirei’s case, the Chitungwiza magistrate deserves to be congratulated for not imposing an unconditional custodial sentence. Tafirei should, however, have been assisted by leading legal counsel to plead not guilty, instead of admitting the charge, and to fight his conviction all the way through to the Supreme Court.


Judge Jeffreys,

Harare.

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