South Africa journalist Sam Sole, of the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism. On July 3, a court released amaBhungane from a gag order over its coverage of Moti Group. (amaBhungane)

South Africa judge strikes down gag order against investigative outlet amaBhungane

New York, July 3, 2023—In response to a South African High Court’s Monday judgment striking down a gag order against the amaBhungane Center for Investigative Journalism, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement:

“Today’s judgment is a massive victory for media freedom in South Africa and an important vindication of a journalist’s ethical duty to protect confidential sources in the public interest,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “Deputy Judge President Roland Sutherland’s judgment reaffirms that the country’s courts will not condone pre-publication censorship without appropriate notice and that investigative journalists have the right to hold and use leaked information in the public interest.”

Quintal has been an amaBhungane board member since October 2013.

A judge granted the original injunction against amaBhungane on June 1—following a secret application by the Moti Group, the subject of the outlet’s coverage—and the action was widely condemned as a threat to media freedom in the country. The injunction ordered the outlet to return leaked documents and refrain from publishing further articles based on them.

On June 3, amaBhungane launched an urgent application in the Johannesburg High Court to overturn the order, in which the parties agreed that the investigative outlet would not destroy or alter the documentation until the matter could be heard in open court. 

AmaBhungane sought another urgent application seeking to overthrow the original order last week; the judgment in its favor was delivered Monday, July 3.

Sutherland called the Moti Group’s application an “abuse of the court process,” according to multiple news reports and a joint statement by the South African National Editors’ Forum, the Campaign for Free Expression, and Media Monitoring Africa, three local press freedom organizations who joined amaBhungane in its legal case. The judge ordered the Moti Group to pay amaBhungane’s and the three organizations’ legal costs.