DURBAN – A Durban lawyer who specialises in social media law has cautioned against the public sharing posts identifying alleged offenders before they appear in court.
The advice from Verlie Oosthuizen, the head of social media law at Shepstone & Wylie, comes after a Facebook post regarding a 31-year-old Verulam woman who allegedly dumped her newborn baby went viral on Monday.
Members of security company Reaction Unit South Africa (Rusa), which was first at the scene and found the baby, alleged it had located the mother and posted pictures and uploaded the identity of the woman on its Facebook page.
Since last night, the post has received 1900 comments and was shared 4504 times.
Most of the comments were negative, while a few defended the woman’s legal rights.
Oosthuizen said sharing or publishing information that identifies offenders on crime pages and websites was risky.
“They could run the risk of being sued for defamation or being charged with crimen injuria or criminal defamation,” said Oosthuizen.
Regarding the incident, Oosthuizen said the nature of the crime was highly emotive.
“The moral and public outrage is significant. The woman that has been identified may not elect to sue anyone for defamation in the circumstances, however, she may well have a cause of action,” Oosthuizen said.
In response, Rusa director Prem Balram said he had exposed the woman’s identity and picture because in cases like these there were no identity parades, and therefore the post did not jeopardise the case.
“In my experience, when people are exposed, there is less corruption and less cases are swept under the rug,” said Balram.
Police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbhele said the woman was arrested shortly after the 1-day-old boy was found dumped in a dustbin. She said the baby was taken to a hospital for medical attention.
“A case of child abandonment was opened for investigation and a woman was later arrested.”