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President Zuma has withdrawn his claim for compensation and an apology against cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro (“Zapiro”).

IPA welcomes the withdrawal of the case and calls on all similar defamation cases breaching freedom of expression to be dropped to send a signal that the authorities fully respect freedom of expression.

“Zapiro”, famous South African cartoonist, and his newspaper have been facing a lawsuit by South African President Zuma for the publication of a controversial political cartoon commenting on President Zuma’s handling of the Judiciary. In June 2012 at the IPA Congress in Cape Town “Zapiro” was awarded the IPA Freedom to Publish Prize for courage under difficult conditions. He has a statement for IPA and the world.

In 2008, Jacob Zuma, later to become South Africa’s President, had sued Avusa Media, the publisher of the Sunday Times, the ex-editor of the newspaper, and Jonathan Shapiro over a September 2008 political cartoon by “Zapiro” depicting President Zuma about to rape “Lady Justice”. As South Africa’s President, Jacob Zuma was still pursuing this case, seeking R100,000 of compensation for defamation (down from R5 million initially 1), and an apology, until withdrawing his claim for damages late last week. The first court hearing, before Johannesburg’s High Court, was due to take place on 25 October 2012.

In commenting President Zuma’s decision, Jonathan Shapiro said: “Although I have said for four years that I am ready and willing to go to court, it was a relief to hear that the charges have been dropped with no strings attached and that President Zuma’s side is paying costs. It is a comprehensive victory for the Sunday Times, for our superb legal team, for me as a cartoonist and for freedom of expression. I stand by the cartoon I drew in 2008 which said metaphorically that Zuma was bullying the justice system to get corruption charges against him dropped so that he could become president. It is disingenuous of President Zuma and his spokesman Mac Maharaj that in their statement about why they dropped the charges, they claim it is a magnanimous gesture for the good of the nation and for freedom of expression. It’s clear from the delaying tactics they used to prevent the case coming to court before the ANC’s end of year national conference that they dropped the charges for their own ends. What they also say in their statement, and which we hope to hold them to, is that a sitting president should not be pursuing defamation cases such as this, no matter how offended he may be. I hope that in the light of this, President Zuma drops his other law suit against me (for R10 million) and all the other defamation cases he has pending against other media practitioners.”

Bjørn Smith-Simonsen, Chair of IPA’s Freedom to Publish Committee, said: “I hope that the South African Government will soon understand that critics are a small price to pay to be a true democracy.

We commend President Zuma’s move to withdraw his claim for compensation against Jonathan Shapiro in the “Lady Justice” case and urge him to withdraw similar defamation claims against Shapiro and others to send a signal that the authorities fully respect freedom of expression. In 2006, Mr Zuma sued Zapiro for R15 million over 3 cartoons done during Mr Zuma’s rape trial (Mr Zuma was acquitted). The amount demanded has been reduced, but the lawsuit has not been withdrawn.”

1 i.e. from USD 574,875 to USD 11,500.

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