Chenjerai Pamhiri, a lecturer at the Great Zimbabwe University in Masvingo, Zimbabwe was arrested on September 2, 2013 after allegedly insulting President Robert Mugabe by calling him an “impotent wife snatcher” while at a bar in Mashava, Zimbabwe.
On September 29, 2013, Professor Pamhiri was fired from his position as a lecturer. In a public statement announcing the termination of Professor Pamhiri’s contract, university officials stated: “Great Zimbabwe University disassociates itself completely from any statements, be they political or of any other nature, that he has made in the past or may make to the press in the future.” Notably, President Mugabe is the Chancellor of all State universities in Zimbabwe.
Section 33 of Zimbabwe’s Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act criminalizes any action that is deemed to be ‘insulting or undermining the authority of the President.” In May of 2013, Professor Pamhiri was charged and subsequently convicted and sentenced to three months in prison under this statute for publicly calling Mugabe a “dirty, rotten old donkey.” SAR previously reported on that case.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about prosecution of a scholar for exercising the right to peaceful expression. State officials have a responsibility not to interfere with scholars’ right to expressive activity, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. Prosecutions aimed at limiting such expressive activity undermine democratic society generally. By the same token, Scholars at Risk is concerned about the termination of a university lecturer in retaliation for expressive activity, particularly when the state official who was allegedly insulted occupies the position of university chancellor, raising serious concerns about encroachments on university autonomy.