SAHRC welcomes guilty verdict against Jon Qwelane

2017-08-18 17:19


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Johannesburg – The hate speech verdict against Jon Qwelane will ensure that freedom of expression is not used as a veil for hate speech, the SA Human Rights Commission said on Friday.

The ruling by the High Court in Johannesburg built on jurisprudence which clarified the reasonable and justifiable limitations to freedom of expression, spokesperson Gail Smith said. 

Also read: Jon Qwelane found guilty of hate speech

Qwelane, South Africa’s former ambassador to Uganda, made homophobic comments in a column published in the Sunday Sun on July 20, 2008.

Smith said the judgment was a victory for the protection of the rights of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender, Intersex (LGBTI) community and Gender Non-Conforming (GNC) people. 

Judge Dimpheletse Moshidi ruled that Qwelane’s comments were hurtful, harmful and incited propaganda hate towards LGBTI people. 

Qwelane had 30 days to offer the LGBTI community an unconditional apology. It had to be published in the Sunday Sun or any national Sunday newspaper and the court had to be furnished with proof of this. 

He was ordered to pay all costs of the proceedings, including those of the postponements and senior council. 

The matter would be referred to the SAPS for further investigation.

Smith said the case highlighted the debate about the meaning of freedom of expression, and ensured this right was used to foster a society based on equality and human dignity for all. 

Former president of the Psychological Society of SA, Juan Nel, said the ruling sent a clear message that homophobic hate speech had no place in the country’s constitutional dispensation.

Advisor to the society, Melanie Judge, said those in positions of power were not above the law, nor could they avoid being called to account for their words and actions. 

Judge said the society would make submissions to the court regarding the importance of the relevant provisions of the Equality Act in stemming verbal and physical violence, and argue that these provisions had to meet constitutional muster.

In his column headlined, “Call me names, but gay is not okay”, Qwelane expressed his opinion about homosexuals. The column was accompanied by a cartoon of a man marrying a goat. Qwelane lauded Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's "unflinching and unapologetic stance" on homosexuality.

"There could be a few things I could take issue with Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, but his unflinching and unapologetic stance over homosexuals is definitely not among those," he wrote.

In April 2011, the Johannesburg Equality Court found him guilty of hate speech for his column. He was ordered to apologise and fined R100 000. He was not present at the default judgment because of his job abroad. The judgment was withdrawn on September 1, 2011.

Qwelane's counsel argued at the time that the default judgment was not allowed, and that a direction hearing needed to be convened before such a judgment could be handed down.

In August 2013, the court heard that Qwelane intended challenging the constitutionality of certain sections of the Equality Act.

The SAHRC later initiated proceedings against him again.

Read more on:    sahrc  |  jon qwelane  |  media  |  gay rights

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