Defamation / Reputation
Johnson v. Steele
Closed Expands Expression
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In a landmark ruling, the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe declared the offense of criminal defamation as unconstitutional and inconsistent with the protection of freedom of expression under the country’s current Constitution. This put an end to the uncertainty about the status of criminal defamation in Zimbabwe and built upon an earlier judgment wherein the Constitutional Court had held that criminal defamation was unlawful but only under the former constitution.
Columbia Global Freedom of Expression could not identify official legal and government records on the case and information on the case was derived from secondary sources. It must be noted that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding legal matters will be updated as an official source becomes available.
In February 2015 MISA-Zimbabwe, an NGO that advocates for freedom of media and expression in southern Africa, together with three journalists Nqaba Matshazi, Sidney Saize, and Godwin Mangudya as well as a citizen and independent publisher, Roger Stringer, filed a constitutional court application seeking confirmation of the invalidity of criminal defamation under the current Constitution of Zimbabwe. The MISA-Zimbabwe application was necessary because of the uncertainty and confusion that followed the 2014 judgment in Madanhire v Attorney General. In this case the Constitutional Court had declared the offence of criminal defamation unconstitutional and inconsistent with the protections given to freedom of expression under the former constitutional. However, the Court in that case also said that because the right to expression in the new Constitution was formulated differently the offense of criminal defamation may be constitutional under the new Constitution. Therefore, the applicants in this case sought a declaration, that even under the new constitution, which protected freedom of expression save for “malicious injury to a person’s reputation or dignity,” criminal defamation is unconstitutional.
On February 6, 2016 Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku and the full bench of eight judges made the landmark holding that in order to avoid confusion, Section 96 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act which enshrined criminal defamation was void.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
This case expands expression because it puts an end to criminal defamation in Zimbabwe which was often been used against journalists.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
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