…Intelligence services gag The Patriot in court order
The Namibia Central Intelligence Agency(NCIS) today sought court intervention in a desperate attempt to stop The Patriot from publishing a story exposing the property deals of the spy agency.
In the interest of justice and on advice of its lawyer, The Patriot agreed not to publish the details of the subject-matter of the article until the outcome of the court application.
The court application was served on The Patriot at 11h30 yesterday for a hearing that was scheduled at 14h00 on the same day.
A visibly irritated Judge Geier postponed the application to next week Friday to give time to The Patriot to study the court documents and file affidavits.
The lawyer for The Patriot, Norman Tjombe said: “my clients will assert the right of the media and freedom of speech in this case. It is unacceptable that intelligence services will use the courts to stifle free speech and public debate on matters affecting each and every person in this country. They too are subject to the Namibian Constitution.”
The owner of The Patriot, Hilda Basson-Namundjebo said yesterday: “We will file answering affidavits setting out our opposition to the application as the matter concerns transparency, accountability and the prudent use of the State’s resources – matters which are most important in the proper functioning of our country’s democracy.”
Mathias Haufiku, the Editor of The Patriot said: “Namibia’s Intelligence services have been covered in a cloud of secrecy for too long, and because of that secrecy, there is potential for corruption and maladministration.
It is the duty of the media, including The Patriot, to continuously inform the public of how its resources are being used. We will vigorously fight for the rights of the media to do its job in informing the public.”
“We[The Patriot] hereby give an undertaking that we will abide by the court order not to publish information on the topic until the matter has been exhausted in court.
We want to assure our patriotic readers that the NCIS will not in any way sway us from providing balanced and fair news. As the fourth estate, we are fully aware of our rights and the rights of others, thus we will never knowingly/unknowingly publish information that infringes on the rights of anyone or any institution,” he added.
Haufiku further said: “As a responsible media house, The Patriot upheld all journalistic principals during the formulation of this story, we are patient enough to hold back the story while the law takes its course, although we are disappointed that the NCIS will abuse the court process to suppress media freedom.”
The Patriot approached the NCIS with a set of questions, and instead of providing meaningful answers, the NCIS’s lawyer, Mathias Kashindi sought to avoid scurrility by claiming that the information is secret and classified, and filed the application on The Patriot.
Although the NCIS claims in its court documents, through its defence team, that “the information the respondents intends to publish falls within the scope of sensitive and or classified information and its unlawful possession, circulation and or publication is prohibited by law, it is the resolve of this publication that the fact that Namibia’s security cluster has in recent years been under fire for its secretive ways which often lacks the necessary accountability and transparency elements, is reason enough to pursue to the story.
The cluster received a huge chunk of the national budget, yet it is the least transparent as far as giving account on how public funds are spent is concerned.
Officials in the security sector often hide behind the veil of “sensitive information” or “national security”.
A good example is that of the army’s commercial arm, August 26 Holdings.
The official opposition, Popular Democratic Movement(PDM) last year said it was unsettling that the parastatal has never, since its incorporation in 1998, published and submitted audited financial reports to the National Assembly, something which was required by law. “August 26 Holdings has been immune to public scrutiny and internationally recognised standards of accounting and reporting as the enterprise has neither appeared before the parliamentary committee on public accounts, nor is it audited by the auditor general,” said the party at the time.
NCIS claims in the court papers that the publication of the information will jeopardise the national security of the country.
“I assert that the operations of the NCIS are by law and practice held in secret and no unauthorised disclosure of such operations or anything related to such operations is allowed by law,” claims the court documents.
The defence team of NCIS also indicated that it cannot disclose the nature and description of the properties that The Patriot wish to publish because it will essentially result in the disclosure of the properties.
“I submit that if I disclose the nature and description of those properties that will be contrary to the aforesaid provisions of the law that I have referred to and that may as well amount to an unlawful disclose of sensitive and or classified information,” said the NCIS defence team.
Government’s mixed signals
While President Hage Geingob was in parliament boasting about press freedom in his State of the Nation Address on Wednesday, Kashindi was busy seeking a written undertaking from The Patriot “in which you confirm that you will not publish any information that relates to the properties of the NCIS.”
In protection of media freedom in Namibia, The Patriot refused to comply to Kashindi’s demand.
Geingob said promoting a free and responsible press, rated as the freest in Africa and among the freest in the world, attests to the commitment of our Government to an open society.
According to Reporters Without Borders, Namibia remains the country with the freest press in Africa and occupies a respectable 24th position globally.
Moreover, Namibia obtained the maximum score of zero on the “abuse” sub-index, meaning no journalist has been harassed or arrested, during the reporting period of 2017.