The International Association of Prosecutors (IAP) has thrown its weight behind prosecutor Billy Downer amid “legal, political and social media attacks” emanating from his private prosecution by former president Jacob Zuma.
The association said the prosecution of Downer, who is the lead prosecutor in Zuma’s arms deal case, was unwarranted and amounted to an abuse of the court process.
Zuma launched action against Downer and News24 journalist Karyn Maughan earlier this month.
It emanates from News24’s publication of the contents of a military doctor’s letter attached to Zuma and the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) publicly available court papers in an August 2021 application for a postponement of his corruption trial.
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Zuma alleged Downer and Maughan violated sections of the National Prosecuting Authority Act and should face a potential sentence of 15 years behind bars.
This despite News24 having published the story after the relevant court documents were filed at the Pietermaritzburg High Court.
The documents had been provided to Maughan by NPA counsel Andrew Breitenbach SC.
The association lauded globally recognised Downer for his professionalism and commitment to the rule of law, saying prosecutors must be free to do their work without fear or prejudice.
Prosecutors should be able to deliver on their mandates without fear, favour, or prejudice, regardless of the power or influence of the accused. The IAP stands ready to offer support and protection to any prosecutor facing threats and unwarranted attacks in South Africa and across the globe.
The association hoped fairness would prevail in favour of Downer during the court process.
The IAP said it was pleased with recent developments and the clear progress being made by the NPA in ensuring that justice is done.
“Accountability is once again becoming a reality in South Africa, and the NPA is playing a leading role in this effort. This progress has resulted in a growing pushback against the justice system more broadly, and the NPA in particular.”
The association added: “Without pre-empting the outcome of the ongoing court processes, the IAP reiterates its support to advocate Downer, who has always conducted himself with the utmost integrity and independence.
“The IAP is confident that the court process in South Africa will be fair and will confirm our view that the private prosecution of advocate Downer is unwarranted and amounts to an abuse of process.”