By ILSE DE LANGE
JOHANNESBURG – An interim North Gauteng High Court order freezing the granting of presidential pardons for politically motivated apartheid-era crimes was yesterday welcomed as a "massive victory for freedom of expression".
Judge Willie Seriti interdicted the President from granting special pardons pending the finalisation of an application either to stop the pardon process altogether, or to halt it until victims had been given an opportunity to make representations.
The President was ordered to provide a coalition of victim and civil society organisations with the list of prisoners recommended for release by a multi-party Pardon Reference Group.
Other applicants for parole must also be made aware of the proceedings.
The coalition, including the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, the Khulumani Support Group (representing victims) and the Freedom of Expression Institute will have to serve papers of its application on the prisoners recommended for release.
Former hit man Ferdi Barnard (serving life imprisonment for assassinating activist Dr David Webster), several former apartheid government officials, AWB members, and the PAC's Letlapa Mphalele (who ordered the St James Church massacre) are among the 2 114 who have applied for pardons.
Melissa Moore of the Freedom of Expression Institute welcomed the ruling as "one big step forward".
"We're ecstatic. It's a huge win for access to information. We believe the process (followed by the Reference Group) was unconstitutional because it excluded full disclosure of the offences (and) input by victims and was conducted under a blanket of secrecy," she said.
Judge Seriti said the practical effect of a parole and a pardon were the same.
"I cannot find any justification for allowing victims of crime to be heard prior to a prisoner being released on parole, but to deny the same right to a victim in the case of a pardon," he added.
Although counsel for the President argued that he had unfettered discretion, the judge concluded that the legislature did not intend to exclude the President's power of pardon from the definition of "administrative action" which was subject to review.
In The Citizen.