Johannesburg (dpa) – South African legal organisations have expressed concern about verbal attacks and threats against judge Thokozile Masipa, who found athlete Oscar Pistorius guilty of manslaughter and not murder, a representative of one group said Wednesday.
“It is normal in South Africa for people to disagree with judgements, but judge Masipa is facing very vocal attacks” to the extent that she has been placed under police protection, said Sarah Sephton from The Legal Resources Centre, a lawyers’ human rights group.
“Some of the remarks may even border on hate speech, defamation and contempt of court,” three legal groups said in a statement about the treatment the 66-year-old judge was being subjected to on social media.
“These comments allege that judge Masipa is corrupt, and or that her gender and or race rendered her incompetent in appropriately applying the law to the evidence presented,” The Legal Resources Centre, Section 27 and The Centre for Child Law said.
The groups said that Masipa’s “gender and or race should be an irrelevant consideration in opinions on her judgement of the Oscar Pistorius trial or any other cases she adjudicates.”
In her verdict, Masipa accepted Pistorius’ version that he mistook his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp for a burglar when he fired at her through the bathroom door in his Pretoria home on February 14, 2013.
The judge said the athlete did not intend to kill anyone, an interpretation that came under widespread criticism from legal experts and the public. The sentence is expected mid-October.
“There have sometimes been court cases involving drug gangs where a judge has needed protection,” Sephton said. But she described the “personal” attacks against Masipa as unprecedented.
“Masipa only did her job, but comments on social media have had overtones of racism and sexism,” she continued. “Being a black and female judge,” which is still rare in South Africa, Masipa has been attacked in a way that knew “no boundaries,” Sephton said.
The high-profile, 41-day trial of Pistorius – the first double-amputee to compete against able-bodied sprinters in the 2012 London Olympics – was closely watched across the world.