MAY 26, 2005
Posted: June 24, 2005

Mail and GuardianCENSORED

The Johannesburg High Court barred the independent weekly from publishing a follow-up story on alleged illegal diversion of public funds through the private South African oil company Imvume to the ruling African National Congress party, according to local and international media reports. Judge Vas Soni ruled that publishing the article would irreversibly damage Imvume’s constitutional rights to privacy and dignity, and that the Mail and Guardian should have given the company more time to respond to the piece. He said that the article was not of overwhelming public interest and was potentially defamatory. Imvume argued that the Mail and Guardian had obtained the information illegally. The newspaper chose not to reveal its sources, but said the information had been verified through a second source.

The court decision came after the paper had already been printed. It was forced to recall its entire print run of 45,000 and produce another edition with the banned information blacked out. The edition hit the streets later than usual on Friday, with the word “Gagged” in large red letters across the front page.

The decision caused an outcry from local and international press freedom groups who said the judge had elevated a corporation’s interests above the constitutional right to freedom of expression, on an issue of overwhelming public interest. The Johannesburg based Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) said it was particularly disturbed that the court was “effectively threatening the newspaper to reveal its sources.”

On June 7, the gag was lifted when the paper and lawyers for Imvume chief Sandi Majali decided to settle out of court, after the revelations were aired in Parliament and reported in the press, according to Business Day, another independent newspaper.