13 February 1998


Editor of weekly newspaper jailed

Incident details

Hannes Smith



(MISA/IFEX) - According to MISA, Hannes Smith, editor of the Windhoek
weekly, "The Observer", has been committed to a Namibian prison for failing
to produce confidential documents to a coroner conducting an inquest in the
1989 assassination of political activist Anton Luboswski. Judge Nic Hanna
ordered Smith's imprisonment in Windhoek on 13 February 1998, after Smith
failed, for the fourth day running, to surrender the documents.

On 13 February, MISA was told by Smith's lawyer, Peter Koep, that his client
had himself to blame for changing stories and not sticking to one position.
Koep stated that "first Smith told the court he had the documents, then he
talked about confidentiality, later he changed that they were lost, this
clearly upset the judge." However, he added that the sentence was harsh
because the documents could not, in any event, have added any value to the
inquest. He also complained that the Judge refused to hear Smith's bail
application until 18 February, noting that "this looks like an act of anger
because in normal circumstances bail applications are heard the same day."
Smith will, through his lawyer, be applying for leave to appeal against his
sentence when his bail application comes up Thursday.

Background Information

Judge Nic Hanna subpoenaed Smith on 9 February and demanded that he
surrender to the court the documents "The Observer" quoted in a story
published on 27 January 1996. The story claimed "The Observer" had met with
one of the people involved in the killing of Luboswski, a lawyer and
political activist for the ruling South West African People's Organization
(SWAPO), who was gunned down in cold blood outside his home in September
1989. The first inquest into his killing was held in 1995, and the following
year "The Observer" carried a revealing article on the matter. The source
for the article also gave "The Observer" revealing details of the plot to
kill Lubowski and without giving away the name, "The Observer" claimed to
have known the killer.

When Smith was first called to court he admitted to having the documents but
refused to surrender them, saying he would rather go to jail than breach
confidentiality and compromise his sources. The Judge then gave him until
the following morning, 10 February, to produce the documents or go to jail.
Smith appeared on 10 February and still refused to produce the documents. He
said he was willing to cooperate with the court in any other way but
surrendering the documents. He then proceeded to write down for the judge
the name of the alleged killer of Lubowski. In an interview with MISA
shortly after the hearing, Smith said that apart from professional
objections, he could not produce the documents because he had misplaced them.

Unsatisfied, the Judge order Smith to return to court on 12 February with
the documents, and his lawyer assured the court the documents would be
produced at that time. Smith went to court on that date, but only to tell
the court the documents were lost. He then claimed the documents could have
been at a farm somewhere in the capital Windhoek. The prosecutors also
accused him of having claimed he had been robbed recently and the documents
were among the missing items. Judge Hanna told Smith he could not believe
his stories anymore. He reminded Smith that first time Smith was subpoenaed
he could not produce the documents on grounds of confidentiality, not that
they were lost as he was now claiming.

The Judge found Smith guilty of contempt of court and pronounced a four
month jail term, suspended to the morning of 13 February. Smith appeared 13
February, still maintaining he could not find the documents, and was
committed to prison.


Media Institute of Southern Africa
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Private Bag 13386
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Fax:+264 61 248016
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