Former South African President Jacob Zuma arrives at the High Court in Pietermaritzburg on March 20, 2023. On June 7, the court prohibited Zuma from continuing the private prosecution of journalist Karyn Maughan. (Reuters/Rogan Ward)

South African court prohibits former president’s private prosecution of journalist Karyn Maughan

New York, June 8, 2023—In response to the Wednesday, June 7, ruling by the Pietermaritzburg High Court prohibiting former South African President Jacob Zuma from continuing the private prosecution of journalist Karyn Maughan, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement urging the former president to accept the ruling:

“The unanimous ruling of three high court judges, including a punitive cost order, is a legal smackdown for former South African President Jacob Zuma and a massive victory for Karyn Maughan to continue her journalism freely without the sustained harassment campaign that Zuma, his family, and his supporters have waged both online and within the legal system,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “We urge the former president not to appeal the judgment. Zuma took an oath to uphold the Constitution when he became president, and he should accept the constitutional right to media freedom that the court has so eloquently upheld.”

The case began in September 2022, when Zuma’s legal team filed criminal charges which launched a private prosecution against Maughan in connection to her August 2021 News24 report on Zuma’s medical condition. The court found that the alleged confidential information that Zuma claimed was unlawfully given to Maughan was in fact public and had already been filed in court three times by the time she published them.

On Wednesday, the Jacob Zuma Foundation, the former president’s personal foundation, tweeted that he would appeal the “bizarre judgment.”

In their ruling, the judges labeled Zuma’s attempt at privately prosecuting Maughan an “abuse of process” and a violation of the right to media freedom recognized in the South African Constitution. The judges also noted that the media’s right to freedom of expression “is not just (or even primarily) for the benefit of the media: it is for the benefit of the public.”

“Such [a] right we agree encompasses the right of journalists to report freely on matters of public interest without threats and without intimidation and harassment,” the judges wrote.  The judges said it was evident in Zuma’s affidavit and tweets by his associates and his daughter that the former president harbors “great hostility” towards Maughan. 

Prosecutors have previously criticized Zuma for his “Stalingrad Strategy” in attempting to delay his trial over alleged corruption in an arms deal for nearly 20 years.