South Africa-based journalists Mxolisi Ncube and Mkhululi Chimoio are likely to face legal action for violating a number of laws through their Baba Jukwa Facebook page. Legal experts interviewed last night said while it was difficult to initiate prosecution against the previously-unknown character(s) in the past, legal action could now be taken since the pair’s identities have been revealed.
Ncube and Chimoio also risk landing in the dock for attempting to disturb public peace through their conduct while aggrieved individuals, on the other hand, could file personal lawsuits.
Harare lawyer Mr Terrence Hussein said criminal defamation statutes and common law apply in cases where publishers propagate malicious information.
He said although it was difficult to press charges against those masquerading as senior Government officials on the Internet, injured parties were entitled to seek recourse through the courts.
Regarding the possible extradition of the journalists, Mr Hussein said due process has to be followed in collaboration with the reciprocating country.
“Anyone who publishes anything be it newspapers or a blog has to do it within the confines of the law. There is an aspect of defamation. If a person publishes anything with malice and someone is injured, that injured person can seek damages through the courts.
“It would be difficult to pursue the matter if the publisher were unknown, but if the person is known then there is a starting point. Threats to harm a person also constitute a criminal offence; criminal law immediately kicks in.”
Another lawyer, Mr Jonathan Samkange, said there was leeway to sue and prosecute the two if a substantive link tied them to the Facebook activities.
He said the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act strictly prohibits criminal misrepresentation.
“Based on this law, one can be prosecuted for criminal misrepresentation; it is a case of fraud where the misrepresentation results in financial loss. However, the link has to be established first,” he said.
The Baba Jukwa syndicate gained notoriety in the run-up to last year’s national elections for publishing material attacking senior State officials. Their “exposes” detailed alleged Zanu-PF assassination plots, corruption and plans to rig the plebiscite.
They also made threats to kidnap the families of particular Cabinet ministers.
In one of their posts, the pair published the mobile phone numbers of officials, including Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri.
A Chegutu man, Josiah Mahovoya, sent obscene messages to Commissioner-General Chihuri and then Zanu-PF Chegutu West parliamentary candidate Dexter Nduna after obtaining their mobile phone numbers from the page.
Mahovoya was subsequently arrested and jailed for four months after being convicted of contravening the Postal and Telecommunications Act, which criminalises “sending an offensive and indecent telephone message”.
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