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.