Zuma charges Downer, News24 journalist; NPA labels it 'abuse of process'

6th September 2022 By: News24Wire

Zuma charges Downer, News24 journalist; NPA labels it 'abuse of process'

Former president Jacob Zuma
Photo by: Reuters

Former president Jacob Zuma has launched a private prosecution against News24 journalist Karyn Maughan and State advocate Billy Downer.

The charges relate to News24's publication of details of Zuma's medical condition, which were attached to court papers lodged at the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg, last year.

Zuma contends that it violated sections of the National Prosecuting Act.

He was granted medical parole by then head of the department of correctional services, Arthur Fraser, shortly after he was incarcerated in July last year.

Zuma's legal team claims Downer leaked the information to Maughan.

The summons was served on Maughan and Downer on Tuesday morning and they are to appear in the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg on 10 October 2022.

News24 editor-in-chief Adriaan Basson said the development was "clearly an attempt by Mr Zuma to bully Maughan and News24 when he knows we did nothing wrong".

"There is absolutely nothing strange or wrong about being given access to court papers that are about to be filed at court, for public viewing. Court papers are inherently public documents. This is a cornerstone of open justice in a democracy. Maughan was just doing her job and threatening her with private prosecution is a blatant and cynical attack on media freedom in this country. Maughan will continue to report on Mr Zuma's criminal cases and we will defend her to the hilt," he said.

Zuma received a 15-month sentence for contempt of court after he refused to comply with a Constitutional Court order to appear before the Zondo Commission. He was sent to the Estcourt Correctional Centre.

A month later, Brigadier Mcebisi Mdutywa wrote a letter informing prison and prosecuting authorities that Zuma had suffered a "traumatic injury" in November 2020 and needed "extensive emergency treatment" with six months to recover.

Maughan wrote about the letter because it was part of court documents that had already been filed, making it public record.

In June this year, the former president cited Downer and Maughan as respondents in his court papers and the NPA issued a nolle prosequi certificate, declaring that it would not prosecute Downer, the lead prosecutor in Zuma's corruption case.

This opened the door for the charges against Maughan and Downer.

The NPA has rejected Zuma's charges against Downer, calling it "an abuse of process" and reiterated that it has confidence in Downer's prosecution of Zuma.

"The NPA and its leadership fully support Downer as we believe that these charges are without merit. They are only designed to intimidate him in the prosecution of Zuma, and to further delay the trial. The private prosecution amounts to abuse of process. Downer will continue to lead the NPA’s prosecution team in the Zuma/Thales trial. He has the NPA leadership’s full confidence.  His track record of prosecutorial integrity and professionalism speaks for itself," the NPA said in a statement on Tuesday.

The NPA added that it expects attacks on its prosecutors to intensify as state capture cases reach the courts, and that it will defend itself from "unjustified attacks and intimidation."

"Prosecutors need to act without fear or favour as they deliver on their constitutional mandate to ensure accountability for crime in our country. The people of our country, all victims of state capture, expect nothing less of members of the NPA," the statement reads.