African Court upholds appeal against criminal defamation

Cape Town, South Africa, December 5, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes today’s ruling by the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights in Addis Ababa that criminal defamation should be used only in restricted circumstances and that imprisonment for defamation violates freedom of expression. The court also upheld the appeal of Issa Lohé Konaté, editor of the Burkina Faso-based weekly L’Ouragan, who in October 2012 was sentenced to 12 months in prison and a fine for criminal defamation in connection with two articles he wrote questioning abuse of power by the state prosecutor’s office.

“This is an important precedent which upholds the value of press freedom and enables Africans concerned about the rule of law and democratic governance to express themselves,” said CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, Sue Valentine. “No journalist should be jailed for defamation. If remedy is needed, it should be sought in the civil courts.”

The ruling is a welcome injection to the campaign led by the African Commission’s special rapporteur for freedom of expression, Pansy Tlakula, for the decriminalization of defamation as well as laws that prohibit the publication of insults and false news. The African Court sets an important precedent and its decisions are binding on member states of the African Union, according to the Media Legal Defence Initiative, a London-based organization that provides legal defense for independent media.