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President Jacob Zuma must demand that charges against Mail & Guardian editor Nic Dawes and two journalists be dropped, a lobby group said on Friday.
“We... call on the president to demand an immediate withdrawal of charges... and to enlist an investigation into the claims made against his spokesperson Mr (Mac) Maharaj,” the Right2Know (R2K) campaign said in a statement.
“The NPA Act must be amended with immediate effect to include a public interest defence to protect journalists against prosecution for revealing what ordinary South Africans have a right to know.”
Dawes and journalists Sam Sole and Stefaans Brummer were questioned at the specialised commercial crimes unit in Pretoria on Thursday, during what was called a “warning” interview.
They were informed of charges brought against them and were advised of their rights.
Dawes said charges laid against himself, Sole and Brummer related to contravention of Section 41 (6) of the National Prosecuting Act of 1998.
It dealt with records collected by the NPA in the course of a confidential inquiry.
He said there was also a charge of theft of the records.
Presidential spokesman Maharaj laid criminal charges against the Mail & Guardian in November last year. The case was handed over to the Hawks.
The charges relate to a front page story in the newspaper, which featured a picture of Maharaj alongside the words: “Censored. We cannot bring you this story in full due to a threat of criminal prosecution”.
Maharaj contended that the story had created the impression that he had done something wrong.
According to the newspaper, Maharaj had lied to the Section 28
inquiry called by the now disbanded Scorpions over allegations that he received kickbacks from French arms manufacturer Thales International.
It was this information, allegedly proving that Maharaj had lied, that the newspaper wanted to publish.
Maharaj has denied ever being involved in corruption and bribery.
R2K said it was concerning that the NPA act had no public interest defence clause.
“No case more crucially highlights the practical justification for the demand made across civil society and progressive organisations for a full public interest defence to protect whistle-blowers, researchers, community activists and journalists whose work is central to our right to know,” it said. - Sapa