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July 11, 2023 Report Launch

Conviction of Fadzayi Mahere for Issuing a False Statement "Undermining Public Confidence in a Law Enforcement Agency" in Zimbabwe

Advocate Fadzayi Mahere.

Advocate Fadzayi Mahere.

Photo Credit: Fadzayi Mahere.

Executive Summary

On April 5, 2023, advocate Fadzayi Mahere, the spokesperson for Zimbabwe’s lead opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), was convicted of “publishing or communicating a statement which is wholly or materially false with the intention or realising that there is a real risk or possibility of undermining public confidence in a law enforcement agency of Zimbabwe” in terms of section 31(a)(iii) of the Zimbabwean Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act [Chapter 09:23] (the Criminal Law Code). She was acquitted of another charge, under section 31(a)(i) of the same Act, of “publishing or communicating a statement which is wholly or materially false with the intention or realising that there is a real risk or possibility of inciting or promoting public disorder or public violence or endangering public safety”.

The charges emanated from Mahere posting a widely circulated video to her Twitter handle in January 2021, with a statement criticising police brutality and indicating that the video showed the aftermath of a baby having been beaten to death by police. In the posted video, a woman desperately holds a lifeless baby and grips onto a police officer, and eyewitnesses and bystanders can be heard saying “the baby is dead” and “the policeman beat a baby to death”. The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) Force later issued a statement clarifying that the baby in the video had indeed been injured, but had not died. Mahere was deemed to have misled the public regarding the death of the baby.

The section 31(a)(iii) offence of which she was convicted, carries a sentence of up to twenty years imprisonment and was previously declared unconstitutional and struck down by the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe for its flagrant violation of freedom of expression. In Mahere’s case, however, the magistrates’ court ruled that the declaration of constitutional invalidity did not apply as it was made in terms of the former Constitution. Mahere was convicted and sentenced to a fine of USD $500, or alternatively to serve three months’ imprisonment. The criminal proceedings lasted over two years, and are ongoing pending Mahere’s appeal against conviction. Pending the outcome of her appeal, her conviction may impact her ability to run for office in Zimbabwe’s upcoming 2023 elections.

The judicial harassment of Fadzayi Mahere in this case amounts to a gross violation of a leading political activist and human rights defender’s rights to freedom of expression, and other fundamental rights, including her rights to personal liberty, to human dignity, to personal liberty and to a fair trial. 

Read the report here

This report was prepared by staff of the American Bar Association Center for Human Rights. The views expressed herein represent the opinions of the authors. They have not been reviewed or approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association and, accordingly, should not be construed as representing the position of the Association or any of its entities. Further, nothing in this report should be considered as legal advice in a specific case. (ABA Policy and Procedures Handbook, Chapter 5, Part C)