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Newspaper faces defamation charges

(MISA/IFEX) - 24 January 2012 - Local newspapers reported that a N$300,000 (approx. US$37,000) defamation claim by former Walvis Bay Municipality Chief Executive Officer Augustinus Katiti against "The Namibian" newspaper will proceed after the High Court in Windhoek ruled in Katiti's favour.

In the ruling by Acting Judge Petrus Unengu, an application by the newspaper, its former editor, Gwen Lister, and Swakopmund-based reporter Adam Hartman calling for the dismissal of Katiti's defamation claim against them, was itself dismissed with costs. This means that the newspaper, Lister and Hartman will now have to present their defence to Katiti's libel claim to the court when the defamation trial continues at a future date, which still has to be set.

At this stage of the proceedings, Acting Judge Unengu found that the evidence that Katiti presented was sufficient to establish a case. This is due to the fact that the defendants admitted that the article in question was indeed published in the newspaper, and because Katiti testified that his reputation was hurt by the article, which he claimed was not factually correct.

Katiti is suing The Free Press of Namibia, which owns "The Namibian", Lister, Hartman, and estate agent Regina Kotchanova for N$300,000 in connection with an article that was published in the paper on 21 December 2007.

He is claiming that the article, which was about a theft charge which an individual named Kotchanova had laid against him with the Namibian Police in Windhoek, was defamatory. According to Katiti, the article was understood by the public to mean that he was being criminally prosecuted, that he was allegedly a thief and criminal, someone who did not honour his contractual obligations, and an amoral and untrustworthy person, and that he had illegally sold office equipment and furniture which belonged to a real estate franchise which he had bought from Kotchanova's husband in mid-2007.

"The Namibian", Lister and Hartman are denying that the article was defamatory or that its publication was unlawful. They have pleaded that the facts reported in the article were essentially the truth, and that the publication was reasonable and in the public interest. In the article, Kotchanova was quoted as saying that she had laid a theft charge against Katiti after he had allegedly failed to pay the full agreed price for the real estate franchise that he had bought from her husband. She also claimed he had sold off office equipment and furniture belonging to the real estate agency before he had paid in full for the franchise.

The largest part of the article was devoted to a statement which Katiti's lawyer had issued on his behalf and in which Kotchanova's claims were dismissed.

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