MEDIA ADVISORY: LESOTHO JOURNALIST CHALLENGES OFFENCE OF CRIMINAL DEFAMATION IN COURT

> Human Rights, Health Rights, Freedom of Expression, Access to Justice > Lesotho
Salc : Staff Writer

Maseru, Lesotho – On Monday 19 February 2018, the Lesotho Constitutional Court will hear arguments on the constitutionality of the offence of criminal defamation.

The case is brought by Basildon Peta, who was charged with the offence of criminal defamation after the Lesotho Times in 2016 published a satirical column (the Scrutator) relating to the then-Commander of the Lesotho Defence Force, Tlali Kamoli. Mr Peta was not the author of the column, but was charged in his capacity as publisher and CEO of the newspaper Lesotho Times.

Section 104 of the Penal Code provides that a person who publishes defamatory matter concerning another person commits the offence of criminal defamation. Mr Peta’s submits that the offence constitutes an unjustifiable limitation of the right to freedom of expression. It is submitted that the offence creates a chilling effect on individuals and on the press. In addition, the consequences of a criminal charge, even when the charge does not ultimately result in conviction, are grave and long-lasting for an accused person. It is on this basis that the Zimbabwe Constitutional Court and the Kenya High Court has recently declared the offence of criminal defamation unconstitutional. The government respondents resist the application on the basis that the offence has long been part of the law and that it is a reasonable limitation of the right to freedom of expression.

What: Basildon Peta v Minister of Law, Constitutional Affairs and Human Rights and 2 Others, Constitutional Case No. 11 of 2016

Where: Lesotho High Court (sitting as the Constitutional Court)

When: Monday 19 February 2018 at 9h30

Before: Judge Mahase, Judge Moiloa and Judge Chaka-Makhooane

Mr Peta is represented by Adv Gilbert Marcus SC, Adv Isabel Goodman and Webber Newdigate. The case is supported by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre.