Free Speech and Artistic Expression in Zimbabwe

Promoting Understanding and the Importance of Freedom of Expression among Artists and Media Practitioners

Challenge

The exercise of basic fundamental civic and political rights in Zimbabwe are restricted by the government through legal provisions that are hostile to the right of freedom of expression as enshrined in the Constitution of Zimbabwe and under international law. Social watchdogs, including media and arts practitioners, have been the target of harassment, torture and incarceration by the State on the grounds of publishing cultural products considered to be prejudicial to the interests of the State. However, media and arts practitioners through various creative spaces and media provide a public sphere, which is necessary in a democratic society as it provides a market place of ideas where truth and lies intermingle with the ultimate hope of giving citizens an opportunity to make informed political choices and to shape public political discourse. Artistic and journalistic exercise is curtailed by Sections 31 and 33 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (Chapter 9:23). Therefore, the project seeks to address the challenge of freedom of expression and creativity among media and artists in Zimbabwe.

Program Summary

The project targets media and arts groups in Zimbabwe because they are already implementing practical, on the ground activities aimed at holding the government to account and monitoring the adherence of State organs to the rule of law. The project will be implemented through a series of workshops to be held across the country targeting media and arts practitioners. Workshop participants will be guided through facilitated conversations on the importance of free expression and its enunciation in the Zimbabwe Constitution and under international law, remedies and courses of action in case of arrest or harassment by the State and ways and means of expanding democratic and creative spaces for exercise of freedom of expression. A human rights and the media (arts) handbook will be made available to media and arts organisations for use as a reference book on freedom of opinion and expression within their organisations.

The objectives of the project are:

  1. Equip media and arts professionals with legal knowledge on freedom of expression as enshrined in the Zimbabwe Constitution and under international human rights law;
  2. Share with media and arts professionals a network and repository of resource persons that they can approach in case of violations to the right of free expression and available legal remedies;
  3. Produce a human rights and the media (arts) handbook; and
  4. Facilitate guided conversations with media and arts professionals on how to expand creative spaces for the further exercise of the right to free expression.

Impact

The project will benefit arts organisations, artists, and media professionals in Zimbabwe. The project will target grassroot and community media arts groups who are most vulnerable to state harassment because they have limited information on the right to free expression and access to legal recourse in case of rights violations.

The project will directly address Factor 4 on the WJP Rule of Law Index - Fundamental Rights - particularly focusing on sub-factor 4.4, which relates to "freedom of opinion and expression". Zimbabwe scores a low 0.14. Zimbabwe scores much lower than its regional neighbours and income level peers on the protection and exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

The project will have the following effects on the WJP Rule of Law Index: 

  1. It will improve Zimbabwe's ranking in the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and speech by media and arts organisations. In case of this right's violation, media and arts practitioners will approach the courts and in the process catalyze legislative reform and judicial activism in repealing laws inimical to freedom of expression. 
  2. It will also expand spaces for the exercise of freedom of opinion and speech.
  3. It will monitor and hold government the government accountable in guaranteeing the exercise of free speech.

Partners

Partners include the Abammeli Lawyers for Human Rights and Youthboundless Zimbabwe.

Project Details

Program Status:

Program Type:Partner

Region:Sub-Saharan Africa

Program Countries:Zimbabwe

Rule of Law Index Factors: Fundamental Rights (Factor 4)

Issue Areas: Arts and Culture, Education, Government, Human Rights, and Media.