The section deals with publication of statements that “undermine public confidence in law enforcement agencies.”
Magistrate Don Ndirowei on Monday removed from remand Nevanji Madanhire, the editor of The Standard, reporter Nqobani Ndlovu and Alpha Media Holdings representative Loud Ramakgapola after they sought to challenge the code in the Supreme Court.
“It is this court’s finding that this application is not merely frivolous or vexatious,” Ndirowei said.
“There is indeed a question of contravention of the Declaration of Rights and there is need to refer the question to the Supreme Court.”
Madanhire and Ndlovu have been appearing before the courts since November last year on charges of “publishing and communicating false statements prejudicial to the State” after The Standard ran a story on the postponement of police promotional examinations.
Through Harare lawyer Chris Mhike, the three questioned whether or not Sections 31 and 96 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, which they are being charged under, were consistent with the Constitution of Zimbabwe, particularly Section 20 which provides for freedom of expression.
Section 31 of the Act criminalises the publishing or communicating of false statements prejudicial to the State while Section 96 creates the offence of criminal defamation.
AMH Editor-in-chief Vincent Kahiya and Zimbabwe Independent editor Constantine Chimakure have a similar application pending before the Supreme Court.
Police have routinely used the law to harass journalists and Ndirowei’s ruling would provide a ray of hope for journalists as the country heads towards a potentially volatile election period.