18 November 2012

South Africa: NPA Fails in Bid to Stop Sunday Times

Johannesburg — The Sunday Times was in shops across the country on Sunday in spite of an eleventh hour attempt by the National Prosecuting Authority to stop distribution of copies leading with a story on the "spy tape" case relating to President Jacob Zuma.

The application by the NPA was made in the High Court in Pretoria on Saturday night but Acting Judge Nomsa Khumalo said since the paper was already in circulation, interdicting the distribution process would serve no purpose.

Several people in the court already had copies of the Sunday edition in court.

After hearing presentations from legal representatives for the Sunday Times and the NPA, Khumalo ruled that the court would not interdict the already ongoing distribution on Saturday night.

"The applicant (NPA) was alerted to the matter on the 15th of November and has failed to prove to this court that the submission now (to halt the distribution) is an urgent matter," said Khumalo.

The NPA's bid was dismissed with costs.

Advocate Jaap Cilliers, for the NPA, had argued that the information in the Sunday Times story was "unlawfully obtained" therefore it should not be allowed to sail into the public domain through the newspapers' reports.

Khumalo asked Cilliers to explain how an interdict on the publication of stories based on information leaked to the newspaper, and the distribution would be enforced.

Cilliers said he "trusted that the editor of the Sunday Times was a reasonable person" and would therefore not persist with the news reports.

Around 100,000 copies had already been distributed in South Africa.

"The Sunday Times obtained this information unlawfully, as we will lead evidence to prove, surely (the court interdict) would limit the damage that will be done. The editor of the Sunday Times knew (about the application of the interdict) but chose to go ahead to printing," said Cilliers.

The Sunday Times story is based on a series -- 300 pages -- of leaked internal communication within the NPA, including emails and memos. The communiques reveal that top prosecutors believed they had a firm case against Zuma.

For the newspaper, Advocate John Campbell SC submitted that the newspaper solicited for clarity from the NPA on the matter on November 15 without success.

He said an interdict would be a blow to press freedom and the business.

Campbell conceded the information may have been unlawfully obtained but "not by us (the Sunday Times)".

In passing her ruling, Khumalo said there were avenues for the NPA to follow in its bid to halt the future publication of the saga in the newspapers.

The judgment was delivered before 10 pm.

The decision in 2009 to drop the charges against Zuma -- taken by then acting National Director of Public Prosecutions Mokotedi Mpshe -- was made a month before he was elected president.

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