Lesotho Constitutional Court declares offence of criminal defamation unconstitutional

2018-05-22 19:19
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The Southern Africa Litigation Centre has commended Lesotho's constitutional court after it  declared the offence of criminal defamation unconstitutional.

In a statement, the centre's litigation director, Anneke Meerkotter, said the court found that criminalising defamation would have a chilling effect on freedom of expression for journalists which could lead to self-censorship and a less informed public.

Meerkotter said the court cited with approval calls by the African Commission and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression which encouraged states to repeal criminal defamation laws.

"We commend the Lesotho Constitutional Court bench for its brave decision, which makes a significant contribution to freedom of expression jurisprudence in the region," said Meerkotter. "We are concerned by the ongoing use of criminal defamation laws against journalists and human rights defenders and hope that this decision will also send a message to other governments to reform their laws."

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This came after the owner of the Lesotho Times newspaper, Basildon Peta, was charged with defamation and crimen injura over a satirical column published in the newspaper on June 23, 2016. 

The defiant newspaper was said to have incensed the then-Commander of the Lesotho Defence Force, Tlali Kamoli when it published  a satirical column titled The Scrutator on June 23.

The Lesotho Times said the newspaper publisher was then charged with crimen injuria after he had been summoned by police detectives from his base in South Africa for interrogation over the column.

Section 4 of the southern African country's penal code says that a person who publishes defamatory matter concerning another person commits the offence of criminal defamation. 

But, of concern to the court was the over breadth of the offence, with a charge being possible even if no person other than the complainant became aware of the supposedly defamatory statement, and with the offence further extending to defamation of deceased persons. 

The court also held the view that the defence that a defamatory publication was for the public benefit was too vague and could lead, as in this instance, to cases where satirical comments are criminalised.

Read more on:    salc  |  lesotho  |  southern africa

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