Zimbabwe court scraps controversial Mugabe insult law

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's highest court has scrapped a law against insulting the president that has been used to arrest opponents and critics of veteran leader Robert Mugabe, a court official said on Thursday.

In the last decade dozens of dissidents have been arrested on charges of insulting the 89-year-old ruler. Some, including a leading opposition figure who called Mugabe a "tired donkey" ahead of elections this year, have been detained for weeks.

However, the Constitutional Court ruled on Wednesday that the offence of undermining the authority of the President and "communicating falsehoods" ran counter to the freedom of expression enshrined in a constitution introduced in March, a court official told Reuters.

"The Constitutional Court's ruling is that these provisions are not in line with basic rights of freedom of expression," said the official, who asked not to be named because the ruling has not yet been made public.

The Minister of Justice has until November 20 to appeal the ruling, the official added.

There was no immediate comment from the Justice Department.

Mugabe has been in power since the former Rhodesia's independence from Britain in 1980, although he has been accused of stealing elections through intimidation, violence and vote-rigging.

He has never commented directly on the "insult law", which was enacted when he became executive president in 1987.