News24 specialist legal journalist Karyn Maughan has filed an urgent application in the Pietermaritzburg High Court, asking the court to set aside a private prosecution brought against her by former president Jacob Zuma.
The summons issued against her by Zuma's legal team is a gross abuse of court processes and, therefore, should be set aside, Maughan argues.
Zuma launched a private prosecution against Maughan and State advocate Billy Downer. He apparently deposited R90 000 with the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate's Court as security for the defence.
The summons was served on Maughan and Downer earlier this month, and they are expected to appear in the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg on 10 October.
Now, Maughan wants the matter thrown out, Zuma interdicted from pursuing a private prosecution against her in the future, and a costs order.
She filed papers in the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg and argued that the summons was "unlawful, vexatious and an abuse of the process of court".
She said the summons was obtained for the "ulterior purpose of intimidating and harassing me and preventing me from freely doing my job as a journalist reporting on Mr Zuma's criminal trial".
"This ulterior purpose is apparent from various comments made by representatives and close associates of Mr Zuma and from the fact that there are absolutely no prospects of success in respects of the charges Mr Zuma has laid against me," she said in court papers.
"A simple review of the facts – all of which are well known to Mr Zuma and are succinctly set out in a judgment by Judge Piet Koen – makes it clear that the charges are without any merit at all."
She said the former president had not obtained a nolle prosequi certificate from the Director of Public Prosecutions to entitle him to institute a private prosecution against her. On this basis, she said she is advised that the summons is unlawful and should therefore be set aside for contravening mandatory requirements of the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA).
In addition, she said Zuma also lacked standing to institute the private prosecution.
"He has no substantial and peculiar interest in the issue of the trial since he has personally suffered no injury as a consequence of the offence he alleges I have committed."
She explained that she had been the target of an "unprecedented level of social media abuse", adding that most of it was directed at her being a woman.
Maughan said she had been referred to as "a thing", "a bitch" and a "criminal", among other things.
"The summons Mr Zuma has issued against me and the online abuse, which Mr Zuma's representatives, relatives and supporters have stoked, is calculated to intimidate and harass me, and to hinder me in the performance of my job as a professional journalist.
"It also appears intended to serve as a threat to journalists in general, to intimidate journalists covering Mr Zuma's trial."
The charges against Downer and Maughan relate to News24's publication of an update on Zuma's medical condition.
The update was attached to court papers lodged at the high court last year.
Zuma contends that it violated sections of the National Prosecuting Act.
The former president was granted medical parole by the former head of the correctional services department, Arthur Fraser, shortly after he was incarcerated in July 2021. Zuma's legal team claims Downer leaked the medical information to Maughan.
Zuma received a 15-month sentence for contempt of court after he refused to comply with a Constitutional Court order to appear before the State Capture Inquiry.
However, a month later, Brigadier Mcebisi Mdutywa wrote a letter to inform prison and prosecuting authorities that Zuma had suffered a "traumatic injury" in November 2020 and needed "extensive emergency treatment", and six months to recover.
Maughan wrote about the letter because it was part of court documents that had already been filed, making it a public record.
No private details were contained in the document.
In June this year, Zuma cited Downer and Maughan as respondents in his court papers.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) issued a nolle prosequi certificate, declaring that it would not prosecute Downer, the lead prosecutor in Zuma's corruption case.
The NPA has rejected Zuma's charges against Downer, calling it "an abuse of process" and reiterating that it has confidence in Downer's prosecution of Zuma.
News24 editor-in-chief Adriaan Basson said the publication was fully supporting Maughan in the application to have Zuma's case thrown out.
"It is a nonsense case designed only to embarrass and intimidate journalists. We will not take kindly to efforts by a former head of state to intimidate Maughan or any other journalist. We shall see Mr Zuma in court."