Sentencing sets precedent against hate speech: SA Jewish Board of Deputies

Ernest Mabuza Journalist
The Randburg magistrate's court sentenced a man to three years' imprisonment, suspended for five years, for threatening and anti-Semitic tweets he posted in June 2018.
The Randburg magistrate's court sentenced a man to three years' imprisonment, suspended for five years, for threatening and anti-Semitic tweets he posted in June 2018.
Image: 123RF/STOCKSTUDIO44

The Randburg magistrate's court has sentenced Matome Letsoalo to three years' imprisonment, suspended for five years, for threatening and anti-Semitic tweets he posted in June 2018.

The sentence follows Letsoalo’s pleading guilty last Friday to a charge of crimen injuria that was lodged by the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD).

The case has its genesis on June 21 2018, when the board received a message from Letsoalo reading: “@SAJBD The #Holocaust will be like a picnic when we are done with all you Zionist bastards. F*** all of you.” The text was accompanied by an image of Holocaust victims.

Later that morning, Letsoalo sent a second message to the SAJBD, reading: “@SAJBD must get decimated. We can’t have Scandanavian rats, fake Jews, Zionist bastards running our economy.”

In subsequent Twitter exchanges with Jewish community members who challenged him, Letsoalo posted further threatening and abusive messages. The board responded by laying a charge of crimen injuria against Letsoalo.

In sentencing Letsoalo, magistrate Heidi Barnard said hateful statements of the kind made by Letsoalo were in violation of the constitution and were becoming all too prevalent in SA. She said the courts therefore had a responsibility to deal firmly with such incidents to send a strong message that such behaviour would not be tolerated.

Barnard said it was for this reason she decided to impose the maximum jail term allowed by a district court.

However, in view of Letsoalo having entered a guilty plea and expressed remorse for his actions, the sentence would be suspended for five years subject to his not repeating the same offence.

SAJBD national director Wendy Kahn welcomed the court’s decision.

“The fact that the maximum sentence was imposed is an encouraging demonstration of the seriousness with which the courts are viewing hate speech, in this case anti-Semitism, and we believe it will be a deterrent to people who feel they are free to engage in such behaviour in our country,” she said.

Kahn said the ruling had established an important precedent for similar cases the SAJBD might have to lay in future and heralded tougher consequences for anti-Semites.

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