- The current extra-ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) has deferred to its next session a communication that challenged Zimbabwe government for legislating the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) - the legislation used to gag Zimbabwe's press.
Believing that the act contravenes the freedom of expression, several media and human rights groups - Independent Journalists Association of Zimbabwe (IJAZ), Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) and MISA-Zimbabwe - jointly seek redress at the African Commission, confirmed a statement issued by MISA-Zimbabwe.
The Zimbabwe government, which has shifted from its traditional role of human rights violator, asked commissioners attending the Commission's Banjul session to defer the matter to its 2007. This, according to Zimbabwe government, would allow consultation between itself and the stakeholders on the issue, arguing that it "will aid in the confidence building necessary for the consultative process."
The commission was advised by Zimbabwe's director of policy and legal research of ministry of justice, Margaret Chiduku on MISA model bill on access to information. She told commissioners that the model bill was submitted to the government and parliament and that it was accepted "in good faith".
Ms Chiduku also confirmed to the commissioners that they would use the model bill during their negotiation with MISA.
"We have submitted it to our Attorney General who is in charge of legislation drafting. We have compared it with existing legislation. The third complainant MISA has also submitted the model to parliament," she said.
Ms Chiduku said Zimbabwe was ready to create a conducive environment for the media and freedom of expression in the country. She said apart from consenting to a self-regulatory mechanism for media practitioners, Zimbabwe was launching a media council next month.
The attorney for IJAZ and MISA, Wilbert Mandinde, confirmed that they had submitted the model legislation to the government. Mr Mandinde criticised the government for dragging its feet to launch the self-regulatory mechanism and the media council.
He faulted the government's request to defer the commission to sit on the complaint, describing it as a ploy to buy time. MISA asked the commission to proceed with the case in its next session if Zimbabwe failed to abide by its promise.
Another defence lawyer in the case is Harrison Nkomo who held brief for ZLHR. He spoke along the same line with Mr Mandinde.
In their ruling, commissioners assured both parties that the matter has not been struck, for it was postponed to allow the parties to amicably dialogue on the legislation.
"We are mandated to reconcile the parties. An amicable settlement begins with the parties. We will try to support the initiative," commissioners ruled.
The submitted communication is seeking for the repeal of Sections 79 (1) and 80 of AIPPA, which deal with accreditation of journalists and criminalisation of falsehoods. Challengers of the act believe it contravenes Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.
Media rights groups are also demanding the repeal of an array of laws that impinge on freedom of press and expression in Zimbabwe.
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