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Gabbuza’s arrest pegs back free speech

By Wisdom Mumera

The recent arrest of MDC Alliance legislator for Binga South Gabuza Joel Gabbuza has reignited the debate on the issue of free speech and President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s sincerity for change.

Gabbuza who is also MDC’s national executive member and one of the long-serving legislators in the pro-labour party is being charged with undermining the authority and person of the president after he allegedly called Mnangagwa “a dog which cannot rule the country”.

It is alleged that the legislator who was speaking in Tonga said: “you people are disabled; you have chosen a dog who cannot manage to rule the country”.

The arrest comes 5 years after the country’s Constitutional Court struck out sections of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act which criminalised the undermining of the authority of the President.

The move was hailed as being progressive and enhancing freedom of speech in a country of tight speech spaces.

Previously defamation laws were extensively used by the former President Robert Mugabe to rein in on the media and political opponents resulting in the arrest of several people including journalists and politicians.

MDC Alliance secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora was once arrested for calling Mugabe a goblin in 2009 whilst addressing a rally.

Mnangagwa’s reversion to the use of the remaining statutes to have citizens arrested for verbally undermining his authority increases the fear that the crocodile, as he is nicknamed is not different from the wily Mugabe.

Since his entry into office, several people have been arrested under the ‘insult laws’ and these include, Alexander Chidzedzere, Wisdom Mkwananzi, Gustiv Kativhu, David Ndlovu, Munyaradzi Shoko and Norman Machipisa among many others.

Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) has reiterated the need for allowing space for free speech.

“The state has a constitutional duty to promote and protect fundamental rights enshrined in Zimbabwe’s Constitution.

“These rights include the right to access information, the right to free expression and media freedoms in general,” it said.

Previously Mnangagwa has promised to defend free speech saying “it’s an indispensable part of the new Zimbabwe.

“It is non-negotiable and will not change, anyone is free to address the media at any time,” he has been quoted to have said.

The continued arrests of citizens who have denounced him, however, is showing a different picture that is characteristic of the days of Mugabe.

A repressed society that is in danger of being arrested for its speech isn’t part of a progressive movement but a relic of the past which the government is so painfully seeking to escape.

It also feeds into the narrative that the supposed election winner isn’t confident in his position and suffers much insecurity so as to have arrested anyone who verbally attacks his standing.

Gabbuza’s case is however likely to fall out as other previous cases with the recent one being the Bulawayo case in which another man was arrested for calling Mnangagwa a dog.

David Ndlovu was acquitted of the charges by Bulawayo Magistrate Gladmore Mushowe after the prosecutors failed to prove their allegations.

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