The country, and the world at large, received the most unlikely news when an American citizens working for Magamba TV was arrested for retweeting a tweet that referred to Mugabe as a Goblin.
It was not even Martha O’Donovan who created the tweet, but the tweet came from the account with the handle @matigary. Martha had her phone and computer confiscated, initially being charged with contravening Section 33 of the Criminal (Codification and Reform) Act. Charges that later surface were that she subverted a constitutionally elected government. Martha was held in detention at Chikurubi Maximum Prison for six days before being granted bail on 9 November 2017.
There have been mixed reactions towards this case. Some have had sympathy for Martha, while others have viewed the case with indifference. Others have had no feelings for sympathy, arguing that since she is American she deserves this sort of deplorable treatment. What is of importance to note with Zimbabwe is that when having such cases, one’s view must transcend the superficial narrative and look at the bigger picture.
The bigger picture here is the freedom of expression in Zimbabwe. The bigger picture here is how the law is, and will be used in stifling the freedom of expression. It may be Martha today, but tomorrow the state may as well pounce on you.
In Zimbabwe, part of the sources of law is common law. And common law deals with precedent. People who attended Martha’s bail hearing can attest to the issue of the citation and referencing of previous judgements. In this line, one must understand that the issue of social media use is being monitored through the newly formed ministry, the Cyber Security Ministry. This Ministry is keen on proving its efficiency. Hence, as Comrade Fatso said, the State wants to set an example.
Now how do they set an example? By having a case with a judgement which works in their favour. Since this is new, obviously the judgement will become binding in future cases, considering that it will be coming from a higher court, which is the High Court. So as you can see, we are dealing with a big matter here.
The hope now us that with the trial, a favourable ruling must be delivered. Chances of that as of now are quite high, considering what Judge Phiri’s ruling was during the bail hearing. He said that the State’s case was found “weak and wanting.” He also said that “The Applicant (Martha O’Donovan) has demonstrated that she should be granted bail. It is my finding that it is in the interests of justice that the Applicant be given bail.” He also added, “It is my considered view that the Applicant has a plausible explanation that could amount to a defence at the trial….there is a patent absence of facts that the Applicant committed the offence alleged.”
If you are particularly concerned about safeguarding your freedom, the time is now. Martha’s case is an affront to everything that has been achieved through the 2013 Constitution. Which is why you ought to start using the hashtag #FreeMartha. Or #FreeZimTwitter. Or #FreedomOfExpression.