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Criminal defamation case against "Nation" magazine, editor postponed

(MISA/IFEX) - On 14 December 2010, a High Court case in which the privately-owned "Nation" magazine and its editor, Bheki Makhubu, have been charged with criminal defamation by the Attorney General was postponed until May 2011.

The case being heard by High Court Judge Justice Maphalala was postponed with the consent of both parties. It will now be heard between 21 and 22 May 2011. The magazine's lawyer, Bob Sigwane, said he has asked for the involvement of a senior counsel from South Africa who will only be available in 2011.

The case is centred on two articles published by the magazine in February 2010. The first criticized a judgment by a High Court full bench on a political case brought by progressive groups, and the other criticized the Chief Justice for a speech in which he referred to himself as a "makhulu baas", slang for big boss. In his speech, the Chief Justice was publicly admonishing High Court judges for what he said was errant behaviour.

In his trial documents, Makhubu claimed that the articles he was charged for did not constitute contempt of court nor criminal defamation. He said he was fully aware that Article 24 of the Swaziland constitution guarantees the right to freedom of expression and opinion.

MISA has assisted the magazine in securing funding to defend itself.


BACKGROUND:

One of the "Nation" articles criticized Supreme Court judges following their judgment on a case in which pro-democracy organizations approached the Supreme Court early in 2009 to ask for an opinion on whether the Swaziland constitution allowed for political parties. The judges, in a majority decision, were dismissive of the question. Only one judge dissented.

On 21 December 2009, the Attorney General wrote to "Nation" demanding an apology on behalf of the judges. In his letter, the Attorney General demanded that the magazine prepare a suitable statement of apology to be approved by the Chief Justice before being prominently published in the magazine.

He warned that in the event that "Nation" failed to comply he would be at liberty to take them to court for criminal contempt.

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