The media have gone straight to the top in its bid to gain access to the refugee status appeal hearing of Czech fugitive Radovan Krejcir.
The Mail & Guardian, Independent Newspapers and Media24 lodged a joint application seeking leave to appeal directly to the Constitutional Court this week, approaching the highest court to rule on "whether it is appropriate for there to be a blanket ban on media coverage of all appeals before the Refugee Appeal Board."
Efforts to gain access to Krejcir's hearing were dealt a blow in December, when North Gauteng High Court judge Hans Fabricius ruled in favour of the state and Krejcir - both had opposed the media's application. Fabricius held that a "blanket ban on access by the general public" is justified because an asylum seeker may choose not to present certain evidence if the proceedings are not confidential.
In his founding affidavit filed with the Constitutional Court this week, Webber Wentzel partner Dario Milo argued on behalf of the media houses that their application is premised on the notion that the constitutional rights of freedom of expression and open justice "warrant the relief that they seek".
Milo argued that the application for leave to appeal "raises pure questions of constitutional law. In particular, it raises the question whether a blanket ban on public access to the proceedings of the appeals board is reasonable and justifiable in terms of section 36 (1) of the Constitution."
Krejcir and the state still have to file their answering papers so there is no indication of when the court will issue directions on the case.
Krejcir was convicted of fraud and kidnapping in his home country. He fled to the Seychelles and arrived in South Africa in 2007, when he was granted a temporary asylum-seekers' permit. In October 2008, Krejcir's asylum application was refused, a ruling he is appealing. The media has alleged that Krejcir has become, for the purposes of South African media law, a public figure - he is a person who has "serious allegations of criminality" levelled against him.
Krejcir is fighting efforts to extradite him back to the Czech Republic. It is alleged that he fears persecution.
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