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Court stays execution of defamation judgement on magazine

(MISA/IFEX) - "The Nation" magazine of Swaziland has recorded a rare media victory in the country through a High Court decision to grant the publication a reprieve in a case in which they had been ordered to pay over US$15,000 for defamation.

On 22 February 2008, the High Court of Swaziland granted the privately owned "Nation" magazine an order for a stay of execution on a recent default judgement that awarded a government official E120,000 (approx. US$15,000) for an allegedly defamatory article published by the magazine.

The magazine's editor, Bheki Makhubu, filed the application to set aside the default judgement granted by the High Court on 1 February in favour of the Under Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Sikelela Dlamini.

He said the article constituted fair comment in the public interest as it pertained to public funds and figures. He contended that the facts commented on were truly stated facts concerning Dlamini in his capacity as a public figure in an issue involving the procurement of drugs for the public by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in which Dlamini serves as Under Secretary.

In his application, Makhubu said he had no knowledge of the judgement against his publication until a reporter from a daily newspaper contacted him about it. He said confirmation of the existence of the judgement was then published in the "Times of Swaziland" newspaper on 8 February.

He contended that, in any event, the amount claimed and even the amount awarded as damages to Dlamini was highly excessive, uneconomic and shocking, and not in keeping with comparable awards to public officials of Dlamini's stature.

High Court Justice Stanley Maphalala granted a stay of execution of the judgement and the matter will now follow the normal court procedure.

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