Avatar photo

By Faizel Patel

Senior Digital Journalist

CPJ urges Zuma not to appeal Maughan judgment

The judges labeled Zuma’s attempt at privately prosecuting Maughan as “abuse of process” and a violation of the right to media freedom.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has urged former president Jacob Zuma not appeal the judgment in his private prosecution against arms deal prosecutor Billy Downer and News24 journalist Karyn Maughan.

The High Court in Pietermaritzburg on Wednesday dismissed Zuma’s private prosecution and ordered him to pay the costs incurred in the legal proceedings.

Zuma instituted the private prosecution proceedings against the pair after he accused Downer – the lead prosecutor in his arms deal corruption trial – of leaking his confidential medical information to Maughan in August 2021.

Zuma must accept the ruling

CPJ’s Africa programme coordinator Angela Quintal urged Zuma to accept the ruling handed down by the Pietermaritzburg High Court.

“The unanimous ruling of three high court judges, including a punitive cost order, is a legal smackdown for former South African president Jacob Zuma and a massive victory for Karyn Maughan to continue her journalism freely without the sustained harassment campaign that Zuma, his family, and his supporters have waged both online and within the legal system.

“We urge the former president not to appeal the judgment. Zuma took an oath to uphold the Constitution when he became president, and he should accept the constitutional right to media freedom that the court has so eloquently upheld,” Quintal said.

ALSO READ: ‘He came to court with unclean hands,’ says expert as Zuma plans to appeal judgment

Abuse of process

In their ruling, the judges labeled the former president’s attempt at privately prosecuting Maughan an “abuse of process” and a violation of the right to media freedom recognised in the South African Constitution.

The judges also noted that the media’s right to freedom of expression “is not just (or even primarily) for the benefit of the media: it is for the benefit of the public.”

“Such [a] right we agree encompasses the right of journalists to report freely on matters of public interest without threats and without intimidation and harassment,” the judges wrote. 

Zuma harbours hostility

The judges said it was evident in Zuma’s affidavit and tweets by his associates and his daughter that the former president harbours “great hostility” towards Maughan.

Prosecutors have previously criticised Zuma for his “Stalingrad Strategy” in attempting to delay his trial over alleged corruption in an arms deal for nearly 20 years.

Appeal of judgment

Shortly after the judgment was handed, the Jacob Zuma Foundation said the former president will be appealing the ruling.

The spokesperson for the Jacob Zuma Foundation, Mzwanele Manyi, called the ruling “bizarre”.

Manyi said they don’t understand how the court came to this decision.

“The foundation is indeed appalled at this bizarre judgment.”

“And we don’t understand why the court would make such a judgment and, therefore, his excellency president Zuma is going to appeal this judgment. We see this as a travesty of justice, we see this as people that are treated with laws that are not in existence in the country. We see this as one of those notorious Zuma laws,” Manyi said.

ALSO READ: Zuma calls for Shamila Batohi and deputy to be investigated for misconduct

Read more on these topics

Billy Downer Jacob Zuma journalists media