Criminal defamation

Belated vindication for free speech, media, in African Commission decision

Two women journalists, released from prison in Rwanda after serving their full jail terms for writing and publishing articles that ‘endangered national security’, have been vindicated by the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights. In its decision officially published last week, the commission found that Rwanda’s laws on defamation and freedom of expression violated the African Charter and should be amended. The two journalists, Agnes Uwimana-Nkusi and Saidati Mukakibibi, were charged in connection with articles published in 2010.

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Lawyers acting for Agnes Uwimana-Nkusi and Saidati Mukakibibi approached the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in October 2012. Both women were in jail at the time, serving sentences related to stories they had written and published, critical of Rwanda’s government and some of its policies.

Lesotho Constitutional Court Repeals Criminal Defamation and Reaffirms Freedom of the Press

FREEDOM of the press and other media, as well as the safety of journalists, were all given a boost this week with a major new decision by Lesotho’s constitutional court. Three judges sitting in the high court’s constitutional division – Moroke Mokhesi, ‘Maseforo Mahase and Teboho Moiloa – have found that criminal defamation, long used as a threat against journalists and the media, is unconstitutional. This decision adds Lesotho to the growing list of African jurisdictions where criminal defamation has been repealed.

WHEN award-winning journalist and media owner Basildon Peta wrote and published a story about the supposed power of the then-commander of Lesotho’s defence force to boss the cabinet around, no-one missed his point. Using the verbal equivalent of a political cartoon, he pictured the general, Tlali Kamoli, interrupting a cabinet meeting and ordering that the ministers strip to their bare chests and do press-ups in the grounds of State House.

PEN Report: Criminal Defamation is Used to Stifle Dissent in Africa

JUDICIAL independence and media freedom are usually linked. In countries where judges feel unacceptable levels of government pressure it is probable that journalists will be experiencing the same thing.

As far as journalists are concerned, criminal defamation is a serious problem hampering the media and undermining the watchdog role of journalists in many African countries. Typically, criminal defamation is used by political and business leaders in particular, to prevent journalists from investigating and writing about personal corruption, corruption in government departments or corruption in business.

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