False Prophets Can’t Necessarily Be Sued

False statements such as the recent “prophecy” by ‘Prophetess’ Elizabeth Sacharias that Namibia would be hit by a devastating earthquake with infrastructure being destroyed and people dying because the nation does not want to repent of its sins do not necessarily invite criminal liability, experts say.

It would be a different case however if people can prove without a shadow of doubt that her statements had negative implications on their wellbeing or resources. Sacharias’ prophecy did not come to pass last Monday and every attempt to get hold of her for an explanation has since proved futile. Late last week, New Era spoke to different experts to gauge their views on the legal implications of her statements. A consultant at the Legal Assistance Centre, Peter Watson, said the constitution provides for freedom of speech and expression but that does not mean people can go out and violate the rights of others. “She (Elizabeth) has not committed an offence. People who follow her believe in her. She is a self-proclaimed prophetess and she felt it was her duty to warn the nation of what she saw. If she caused harm it’s a question of negligence,” Watson said. He said Sacharias did not force people to believe in her prophecy, adding that in the last five years there have been many predictions of the world coming to an end, made by people who believed in their convictions. “It is up to people to decide [whether to believe her or not] unless she is doing it intentionally then that would be a different case,” said Watson. Chief Superintendant of the Windhoek City Police, Abraham Kanime, said: “We are guided by the law and only if the law is contravened can a person be arrested.” He said nothing much can be done to arrest the prophetess or people who make similar claims because of their right to freedom of speech and expression. “The only approach is to warn the public to be careful and alert,” said Kanime. “It is a question of people being offended. If the public feel these types of messages are offensive then the police will look into the matter but so far it is not a direct crime, so to say,” said Deputy Commissioner Sylvanus Nghishidimbwa, the Namibian Police Khomas Regional Crime Coordinator.

Human Rights lawyer Norman Tjombe too maintained that the case of Sacharias does not warrant legal liability. “It would have been a different matter if it resulted in massive turmoil, injuring people and damaging property. In that case she would certainly face civil action for damages that she may have caused as a result of her statements.” Tjombe went on to say that in this case the average Namibian is far more intelligent and sophisticated to have gone into a panic on such an “obviously fallacious” statement. Nevertheless, Tjombe explained that there might be room for charges of fraud against Sacharias if she might have made statements to entice the more gullible members of society to donate money to her or her church. “However, these gullible people will have to convince a court that the statements were in fact believable for them to be enticed to part ways with their money. I don’t think they will be successful. In fact, the court might see them as rather stupid people,” said Tjombe.

Retired pastor and church leader, Reverend Ngeno Nakamhela, early last week told New Era that the media has a role to play in what messages it presents to the public and whether it is in their interest. “The media should take the lead on what to print and what not to print. It is they (the media) who printed that information,” said Nakamhela. Contrary to Nakamhela’s views however, Media Ombudsman Clement Daniels said it is in the public interest that the media presents these messages as the culprits are exposed in the process. However, he, maintained that it should be done in a balanced way by presenting different views. “… And they (the public) can make up their minds,” said Daniels.

Source : New Era