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By Lunga Simelane


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

'The prosecution of Maughan has all the elements of a Slapp suit and has the effect of intimidating, harassing and silencing her as its ulterior motive.'

Despite his bid for a private prosecution against arms deal prosecutor Billy Downer and journalist Karyn Maughan rejected along with punitive costs, former president Jacob Zuma still plans to appeal the judgment.

The KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg yesterday delivered judgment in applications brought by Downer and Maughan, challenging Zuma’s private prosecution and dismissed the private prosecution initiated by Zuma.

ALSO READ: Zuma’s bid to prosecute Downer and Maughan dismissed

It emanated after Zuma accused Downer of leaking confidential medical information to Maughan in August 2021, which was understood to be in breach of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) Act.

Both brought applications to have the summonses they were served set aside and said they did not leak the former president’s medical information as the information was publicly available in court documents and did not include any confidential details.

However, Jacob Zuma Foundation spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi said the foundation was “appalled at this bizarre judgment”. The law was very clear on this matter and Section 41 of the NPA Act had been transgressed.

“We don’t understand why the court would make such a judgment,” he said.

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“And therefore, his excellency (Zuma) is going to appeal. We see this as a travesty of justice. We see this as people that are treated with the laws that are not in existence in the country, when the law is so clear about not giving out information prior to the permission by the National Director of Public Prosecutions.”

‘Abuse of process’

In the ruling handed down by Justices Gregory Kruger, Jacqui Henriques and Thokozile Masipa, interdicts restrained Zuma from pursuing any further private prosecutions against them.

“The respondent’s private prosecution of Downer and Maughan constitutes an abuse of process as it has been instituted for an ulterior purpose and consequently, they are entitled to the relief sought in the respective notices of motion,” the judgment read.

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Editor-in-chief of News24 Adriaan Basson said this was a wonderful day for media freedom in SA.

The judgment affirmed the freedom of journalists like Maughan to freely exercise their rights under Section 16 of the constitution – to report without fear or favour about the court cases and even about powerful people of court cases, he said.

“This was indeed an abuse of process by Zuma trying to intimidate Maughan from doing her job and he had no standing to bring his case against her,” Basson said.

“This was an attempt to intimidate and bully a journalist and have chilling impact on the rights and freedoms of journalists to do their reporting. And we hope that this judgment also gives impetus to other journalists to continue doing their work and reporting without fear or favour.”

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The judgment also stated the courts recognised it was quintessential to the freedom of expression and freedom of the press to protect the abuse to intimidate, censor and silence journalists by means of strategic lawsuits against public participation (Slapp) suits.

Zuma relied on ‘unlawful’ summons

Media lawyer Dario Milo said the nolle prosequi certificate relied on by Zuma to prosecute Maughan did not refer to her as a suspect/ accused.

“The summons against her was therefore unlawful. Zuma failed to prove an injury under the legislation. The letter in her reports was a public document,” he said.

Milo said in relying on the antiSlapp judgment of the Constitutional Court, the court held that Zuma’s private prosecution abused court process.

“Zuma came to court with unclean hands,” he said.

The court says consistent with Section 16 [free expression] that Slapp suits against journalists warrant protection by courts. The prosecution of Maughan has all the elements of a Slapp suit and has the effect of intimidating, harassing and silencing her as its ulterior motive.”

NOW READ: Judgment reserved in Ramaphosa’s challenge of Zuma’s private prosecution

– lungas@citizen.co.za

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