MASERU — Father Maleka Mathibeli — editor-in-chief of the vernacular weekly Moeletsi oa Basotho ? on Friday escaped with a caution after the High Court found him guilty of a contempt-of-court charge.
The charge arose from the headlines of two articles published in the paper’s edition of May 10 2009.
Justice Peter Cullinan — whose appointment to preside over the case had courted controversy — discharged Mathibeli with unspecified conditions, saying he would give reasons for the judgment on January 4 next year.
The judge, though, noted the clergyman-turned-journalist was a first offender and not a criminal “in the true sense of the word”.
“I treat you with compassion. You are not a criminal in the true sense of the word and I propose to grant you mercy and lenience. You are conditionally discharged,” Justice Cullinan said.
The judge told Mathibeli — who cut a tall, imposing figure wearing a grey suit, grey shirt and brown, spotted tie — it was never the court’s intention to be vindictive.
In his evidence, the accused — among other things — said he did not always look at every page before the newspaper went to print.
Mathibeli also dismissed claims by crown witnesses that he had told investigators he had seen the articles in question before going to print and that he had edited or rewritten the contents.
Crown counsel Hopolang Nathane, in his submissions, asked the court for a conviction as the state had established a prima facie case.
In a guarded response to his acquittal, Mathibeli would not say much but warned all media practitioners to be cautious when police ask for information off the record.
“They could later use the information as evidence against you, like what happened in this case,” Mathibeli said.