South African Court to Hear Zuma’s Prosecution of Journalist

Former South African President Jacob Zuma's legal battle against a journalist and prosecutor is set for a court hearing this week

The KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg is set to hear two court applications relating to former South African president Jacob Zuma’s private prosecution of a journalist Karyn Maughan and prosecutor, Advocate Billy Downer. The hearings are expected to take place on Monday and Wednesday, and the applications are expected to be heard one after the other. Both Maughan and Downer have filed urgent applications asking the court to scrap Zuma’s private prosecution against them.

Maughan has argued that Zuma did not obtain a nolle prosequi certificate against her, which is key to Zuma being procedurally allowed to privately prosecute. She also asserted that Zuma abused the court process to intimidate, harass, and bully her to prevent her from further reporting on his corruption case. Downer has made similar claims and has also filed an application asking for the prosecution to be scrapped.

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The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef), Campaign for Free Expression, and Media Monitoring Africa have previously applied to be friends of the court, arguing that the NPA Act was not intended to censor media freedom. Zuma has accused Maughan of colluding with the State to publish his medical records without his permission. He wants Maughan’s urgent application to be dismissed, arguing that he was entitled to prosecute the journalist.

The charges against Maughan and Downer relate to a publication of an update on Zuma’s medical condition. The medical document was attached to court papers lodged at the High Court in 2021. Documents filed with the court are deemed public records unless a judge instructs otherwise. There was no instruction in this instance, and the document did not reveal details of Zuma’s condition.

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Karyn Maughan Jacob Zuma Billy Downer

Zuma’s private prosecution of Maughan and Downer has been met with criticism, with many arguing that it is an attempt to silence the media and undermine the rule of law. The court hearings this week will be closely watched, with many hoping for a ruling in favour of media freedom and the protection of journalists from harassment and intimidation.

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