Kenyan weekly The East African was ordered to pay one billion shillings (about 720,000 euros) in damages in a defamation case before the Tanzania High Court - a "completely disproportionate punishment", protested Reporters Without Borders.
"It is a grotesque situation. The East African was not able to defend itself because its lawyer had not renewed his permit. Why could the court not postpone the trial by a few days to allow the newspaper to find another lawyer?" the international press freedom organisation asked.
"We have moreover never seen such disproportionate damages in a defamation case," it added. The newspaper’s management has announced it will appeal. "We call on the Tanzanian courts to hold a fair trial and impose a punishment that fits the crime, " it said.
The East African, which belongs to the Kenyan Nation Media group was ordered to pay damages to Salim Ahmed Salim, former secretary general of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) at a hearing on 20 February. The case related to an editorial in the newspaper’s 26 August 2002 edition that said the diplomat had defended the former minister of commerce, Iddy Simba, then facing corruption charges in Tanzania.
The weekly was also ordered to publish an apology as soon as possible. The date of the appeal has not yet been announced.