Criminal defamation law struck down

Criminal defamation law struck down

MASERU – IN a stunning victory for media freedom in Lesotho the Constitutional Court has struck down the country’s criminal defamation laws.
This after the court ruled this week that Sections 101, 102 and 104 of the Penal Code Act No.6 of 2010 are at variance with the constitution and should therefore not stand.  The constitutional challenge was brought by Publisher of Lesotho Times Basildon Peta after he was charged for allegedly defaming the then army commander of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli.
Lt Gen Kamoli had taken offence to the contents of Scrutator, a satirical column.

Headlined ‘Flicker of hope for my beloved Kingdom”, the article had poked fun at the General in jest.
Peta was charged with violating provisions of Section 104 of the Penal Code No.6 of 2010 read with Sections 101, 102 (1) and subsection (2) which deal with criminal defamation.

The state alleged that the article had deliberately injured the general’s reputation.
In reaction Peta challenged those sections, arguing that they violated section 14 of the Constitution which deals with freedom of expression.
He asked the court to declare that if the sections are unlawful their invalidity should apply in retrospect.
The Constitutional Court agreed with his argument, striking down one of the laws that politicians have routinely used to stifle media freedom and criticism against them.

The judges said the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression in 2000 called for the repeal of criminal defamation laws.
It said “Criminal defamation laws should be repealed in favour of civil laws as the latter are able to provide sufficient protection for reputations and criminal defamation laws represent a potentially serious threat to freedom of expression because of the very sanctions that often accompany conviction”.

The judges said criminal defamation is not reasonable or justifiable in a democratic society. The bench consisted of Judges ‘Maseforo Mahase, Teboho Moiloa and Acting Judge Moroke Mokhesi. Peta told thepost last night that the judgement was a “victory not only for the media but for everyone”.
The judgement, he said, should also be seen as a victory for the region as well.

“It’s a victory for the Lesotho Times and me because it means we don’t have to go through the prosecution but the implications of this judgement are far-reaching,” Peta said. “Freedom of expression and of the media is the life-blood of any democracy. I would say if those freedoms are under assault then every other freedom is under siege.”

He said the judges were “very brave” to come up with “such a robust judgement that strikes down such restrictive laws”.
“This judgement should be celebrated by everyone because the more restrictive laws are repealed the better for the country and the region.”

Staff Reporter

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