Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) has launched a complaint with the African Commission on behalf of exiled SANAC executive director Gregory Chifire, who was jailed last year by the Supreme Court for contempt of court.
In the complaint, SAHRDN asked the African Commission to, amongst other things, investigate and recommend that a finding of contempt of court against Chifire is an infringement of the rights to freedom of expression and dignity.
On November 23, last year, Chifire, who is currently in exile, was slapped with a six-year jail sentence for contempt of court regarding his remarks in the Savenda vs Stanbic Bank case.
And on June 7, this year, Chifire wrote a complaint against his conviction and addressed it to the Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
According to the complaint, Chifire wants the Commission to grant him reliefs; requesting that government suspends the execution of his sentence until the matter has been determined by the Commission; and further put in place measures to ensure his protection to enable him to return to the country.
He further wants a declaration that the charge of contempt of court against him is an infringement of the rights to freedom of expression and dignity as well as a declaration that by acting as a court of first instance, the Supreme Court violated his right to an appeal.
Chifire also wants a declaration that his six-year sentence was excessive, and violated the rights to equality before the law, freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.
In another letter dated July 9 and addressed to him, Secretary to the Commission, Dr Mary Maboreke, acknowledged receipt of his complaint and advised him that the Commission would table it for consideration and he would, thereafter, be informed of the decision.
In a further statement issued on July 22 in Johannesburg, South Africa, SAHRDN explained that it had launched a complaint with the African Commission on behalf of Chifire as a means to protect the rights of human rights defenders.
“As part of its use of strategic litigation as a means to protect the rights of human rights defenders (HRDs), SAHRDN has launched a complaint with the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights on behalf of exiled Zambian human rights defender, Gregory Chifire. The complaint filed in terms of Article 55 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (the African Charter), asks the African Commission to, amongst other things, investigate and recommend that a finding of contempt of court by the Supreme Court of Zambia, against Mr Chifire for expressing an opinion on a final judgment is an infringement of the rights to freedom of expression and dignity under Articles 9(2) and 5 of the Charter,” read the statement.
SAHRDN added that the use of contempt of court proceedings to stifle and prevent people from expressing their views freely was not necessary in a democracy.
“Use of contempt of court proceedings to stifle and prevent people from forming opinions and expressing their views freely is not reasonably necessary in a democracy. The SAHRDN hopes that this complaint to the African Commission and the remedies that are being sought will not only protect the rights of Mr Chifire, but set precedent for many other HRDs (Human Rights Defenders) in the region experiencing such suppression,” it stated.
And SAHRDN Chairperson and Africa Director of the International Commission of Jurists Arnold Tsunga stated that the case against Chifire was an affront to the principles of openness, transparency and accountability in which a democracy was based upon.
He added that Chifire’s conviction was, therefore, unfair and a violation of his right to freedom expression.
“This case against Mr Chifire and the manner in which the law was used to silence HRDs is an affront to the three principles in which a democracy is based upon: openness, transparency and accountability. It is the view of the SAHRDN that the way in which Mr Chifire brought the issue of possible judicial corruption to the attention of the Hon Chief Justice fell within the ambit of acceptable conduct on judicial accountability. The conviction and disproportionate sentencing is, therefore, unfair and a violation of his right to freedom expression,” he said.
Meanwhile, SAHRDN Deputy Chairperson and Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation in Malawi, Timothy Mtambo, added that Chifire was left with no option, but to pursue litigation at the African Commission having exhausted all domestic legal remedies that were available to him.
“Mr Chifire as a HRD had exhausted all the domestic legal remedies available to him in an effort to vindicate his rights. The Supreme Court as the highest court in Zambia acted as a court of first instance in Mr Chifire’s case, sitting as a full bench of nine judges. There is no domestic recourse to appeal their decision. It means that Mr Chifire had come to a dead-end in Zambia and the SAHRDN as part of its mandate to protect HRDs in Southern Africa was left with no option, but to pursue litigation at the African Commission,” stated Mtambo.