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Released on: December 7, 2023

Alert on criminal defamation

The South African Parliament has repealed the law on criminal defamation, removing an offence that has been most often used to stifle journalists, activists and others by threatening them with prosecuting and jail for harming a person’s reputation. The repeal was contained in one short line in an omnibus Judical Matters Amendment Act, approved on December 6 and now sent to the President for signature.
 
South Africa’s ournalists and human rights bodies have called for a repeal of this law since the  Constitution came into effect in South Africa almost 30 years ago, arguing that there are sufficient civil remedies if one is defamed and this law has a chilling effect on free expression in a democracy. Many democratic countries have repealed such laws in recent years and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has called on African countries to do the same. “Criminal defamation laws constitute a serious interference with freedom of expression and impede the role of the media as a watchdog, preventing journalists and media practitioners [from] practising their profession without fear and in good faith,” the African Commission said back in 2010.
 
ANC Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe promised in 2015 to get rid of it, but little happened until it was slipped into this week’s new act and quietly approved.
 
“This is a small but significant victory for democracy and free expression,” said Anton Harber, CFE executive director. “It removes a weapon that is most often used to stifle criticism and open discussion.”
Contact: Anton Harber 083-3039497

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