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Criminal defamation fades, though prosecutions continue

Lesotho’s constitutional court declared criminal defamation unconstitutional, holding that the law has a chilling effect on journalists’ freedom of expression and results in self-censorship and a less-informed public.[1]

The decision followed the footsteps of recent judgments in Kenya’s High Court, Zimbabwe’s constitutional court, and the decision of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court as it applied to Gambia (see below).[2]

In May, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Information designate made assurances that criminal defamation would be repealed during his tenure.[3]

Across the region, however, these archaic laws continue to be used to persecute journalists. In the DRC, Sylvanie Kiaku was held in October on charges of defaming a local bank. Journalists in the DRC can still be jailed for up to a year for defamation; Tharcisse Zongia and Serge Olivier Nkongolo were both detained in 2018.[4]



[1] MISA Lesotho, Freedom Of Speech Victory: Criminal Defamation Unconstitutional In Lesotho, 23 May 2018, available at

[2] ARTICLE 19, Gambia: Respect ECOWAS Court Ruling on Rights of Journalists, 23 February 2018, available at

[3] Journal du Cameroun, Sierra Leone: Information Minister-Designate Vows to Repeal Criminal Libel Law, 4 May 2018, available at

[4] Media Foundation for West Africa, Journalist Freed After 7 Days in Arbitrary Detention, 8 March 2018, available at