A senior editor of the tabloid that published Jon Qwelane’s 2008 homophobic article has insisted that the former journalist should have the right to express his bigoted views.
Testifying on behalf of Qwelane on Wednesday in the Johannesburg High Court, Sunday Sun Deputy Editor Ben Viljoen argued that although the article may have been hurtful this is no justification to restrict the press.
According to Times Live, he said that while in this case it was LGBTI people who were hurt by the piece, what if, for example, “that someone hurt by this is a politician accused of corruption”?
Viljoen further testified that Qwelane had not been involved in writing the headline for the article or for the creation of the equally offensive cartoon accompanying the piece. He also believes that the newspaper was ultimately responsible for its publication.
In the Call me names, but gay is not okay article, Qwelane suggested that homosexuality was similar to bestiality, said he supported Robert Mugabe’s homophobia (which includes calling gays and lesbians “worse than pigs and dogs”), and urged politicians to remove the sexual orientation equality clause from the Constitution.
A cartoon alongside the article depicted a man marrying a goat in church, further enforcing the idea that same-sex relationships are akin to bestiality.
In 2008, the Sunday Sun issued a half-hearted apology for having “clearly hurt some people’s feelings”, after being ordered to do so by the Press Ombudsman. Qwelane, however, has personally refused to apologise.
Viljoen is Qwelane’s only witness in the matter. Since the start of the trial, experts and activists from the SA Human Rights Commission, People Opposing Women Abuse and the Psychological Society of South Africa (PsySSA) have testified as to the dangerous impact of hate speech on the LGBTI community and society at large. A lesbian survivor of homophobic attacks also spoke about her experiences.
The trial is set to resume on 14 March when closing arguments in the hate speech case will be heard. Qwelane’s constitutional challenge to the Equality Act’s hate speech provision will also be addressed. The disgraced journalist, who has not attended the trial due to ill health, claims that the act infringes on his freedom of expression.
PsySSA said in a statement that it will argue next week that the act’s hate speech provision is vital “in upholding the equality, dignity and psychological and physical integrity of LGBTI people by curbing verbal and physical violence”.
Although the Equality Act limits the right to freedom of expression it does so in a manner which satisfies the requirements of the Constitution, argues the organisation.