WINDHOEK – The Namibia Media Trust (NMT) under the former editor of The Namibian newspaper, Gwen Lister, issued a statement in which it called for the removal of the 1982 Protection of Information Act and a review of the Namibia Central Intelligence Act of 1997.
She made the demands while also welcoming the High Court ruling by Judge Harald Geier that found in favour of The Patriot newspaper after the Namibia Central Intelligence Service (NCIS) attempted to gag the paper from publishing an article on purported corruption at the hands of the agency.
“The Namibia Media Trust (NMT) welcomes the High Court judgement rejecting the attempt of the Namibia Central Intelligence Service (NCIS) to prevent The Patriot newspaper from publishing a report about alleged dubious land deals, which also involve retired Central Intelligence Service operatives, on the part of that government agency,” read her statement that was issued on Tuesday.
NMT further called on the government to repeal the 1982 Protection of Information Act and review the Namibia Central Intelligence Act of 1997, both of which were used by the NCIS to invoke charges against The Patriot.
“It is clear from the judgement that these types of laws have the potential to cover up illegal acts of corruption as they inhibit maximum access to information and subsequently public scrutiny of wrongdoing,” the statement reads and continues: “Thus, the judgement is clear testimony that these Acts are inimical to democratic commitments to freedom of media and expression as guaranteed in our Constitutional Bill of Rights.”
According to NMT, the potentially serious criminal penalties attached to the Protection of Information Act in particular have a chilling effect on the work of journalists reporting freely in the public interest, and further fly in the face of democracy.
“We are therefore heartened by the judgement which not only displays the independence of our judiciary, but also adds to a growing body of jurisprudence on free expression,” she stated.
NMT further impressed upon the government its responsibility to provide an enabling environment for media freedom and free expression for all citizens and, in this light, called on the government to speedily review portions of these laws which undermine constitutionally entrenched rights to free speech as well as access to information, and to strike the apartheid-era Protection of Information Act from the statute books.
The ruling which the NMT statement referred to followed an application by the spy agency to interdict The Patriot from publishing details about its properties, including two farms, and a residence in Windhoek West. The NCIS was further ordered to pay the costs to include one instructing and one instructed counsel.
The NCIS dragged the newspaper and its editor, Mathias Haufiku, to court after Haufiku informed them through a text message that he intended to publish an article chronicling the manner in which the secret service is utilising the said properties, which was promptly followed by a letter from the government attorneys threatening legal action should Haufiku not refrain from publishing the article. According to the NCIS, the article would compromise national security.
The judge however found that as the NCIS sought to interdict the publication of an article that was intended to expose the alleged misuse of public funds and corruption, the question arose whether or not the law – and in this instance the relied upon statutory provisions – could be used to cover up potentially illegal, and in this case alleged corrupt, activity.