Swaziland: Reporter summoned to testify in court

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Court hearing
Court hearing (illustration) © Nick Youngson

On 12 April 2010, a reporter with the privately-owned Times of Swaziland newspaper, Musa Nhleko, was summoned to appear at the High Court of Swaziland to testify in an attempted murder case he had covered recently when the crime was allegedly committed.

The case relates to a young man who allegedly tried to kill his girlfriend for refusing to abort an unborn child. When the incident took place, Nhleko covered the story and it was eventually published in the Times. The man was later arrested and is now appearing in court charged with attempted murder.

On 18 March 2010, Nhleko received court summons ordering him to appear at the High Court to testify in the case. He was ordered to bring with him the photographs he took when the incident took place.

Nhleko told MISA Swaziland that he was warned that failure to heed the summons would result in him being found guilty of contempt of court and jailed for three months with or without hard labour.

On 12 April 2010, after consulting his editors, Nhleko appeared at the High Court but was not put on the witness stand. Instead, the prosecutor accepted his photographs which were presented in court as evidence and he was allowed to leave. However, he was ordered back in court on 15 April 2010 where further evidence was collected from him.

The case is continuing at the High Court.

MISA Position

MISA condemns the action by the court and views this reaction as amounting to harassment and threatening of a journalist. When journalists write stories, they write not to be accountable to the courts, but as a professional obligation and in the public interest. Any materials that saves as sources of their stories cannot be collected from them by force.

The action by the court will pose threats to the operation of journalists and freedom of expression in case a trend emerges where journalists would be compelled to reveal the proofs and sources of their stories.

What is also most worrisome is also the fact that the photographs demanded by the court were already published in the newspaper and the copy of the newspaper could have saved as evidence to satisfy the court rather than throwing threats at the journalist and questioning the authenticity of the story and pictures.

The High Court should also take note that media houses are in themselves gate-keepers with qualified editors and have the ability to verify the authenticity of every materials before it gets published in its newspapers and hence there remains no need for the court to threaten journalists for publishing their stories.

According to the Windhoek Declaration, Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, which Swaziland as a country have ratified, the media including every citizen have the right to Freedom of Expression and Access to Information.

It is therefore a matter of concern that the Swazi High Court which in this case was supposed to be the watch dog of these international legislative tools have now joined a bunch of offenders to trample upon them. MISA is therefore calling upon the Swazi High Court to desist from committing similar actions and consider using appropriate means towards journalists should any need for evidence image.

Source: Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)

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