Opinion: The Christopher Panayiotou case and how we have lost it

JULY 21, 2015

Murder accused Christopher Panayiotou will spend another week behind bars as Grahamstown High Court judge, Glenn Goosen, decides on his latest bail bid. His decision is expected next Tuesday.

Still, the appeal hearing on Monday, which saw tensions in the Grahamstown High Court, also evidently furthered the public’s interest in the case – and ‘Christopher Panayiotou’ at one point became the most discussed topic on Twitter as from ‘social commentators’ to pseudo lawyers took to social media to air their views, opinions and ‘verdicts’ on the case.

Most of the ‘comments’ and ‘observations’ have been nothing but emotional than rational from people whose understanding of how the law works is derived from courtroom TV shows.

Amid the frenzy and sensational revelations on this case, it has become easy for one to go with the flow and forget that Christopher Panayiotou is still to be tried in a court of law – and before then, he is still innocent until proven guilty.

This is not to say, Panayiotou is not guilty, as the widely circulated ‘evidence’ suggests he might have some questions to answer, but the law, which everyone in this democracy should abide by, has not taken it’s course either.

Judging from the opinions and speculations, unfortunately also promoted by the mainstream English and Afrikaans media (maybe for obvious purposes), and over social media, everyone since the Oscar Pistorius case has woken up with a law degree.

Blame the media? Let’s see… When Jayde was first reported missing, very few media outlets in and outside of Port Elizabeth took notice. It was when someone found out that the police intended to arrest Panayiotou that the media frenzy really began.

Even before his initial court appearance, many media outlets had broken the rule that suspects in criminal cases should not be named before being formally charged.

Since then, scandalous exposés in the media have fuelled public fascination with the case – from a plagiarised eulogy to an overblown affair (which we now understand could have been an open secret). In many instances, the media have become prosecutors actively building the case against Panayiotou in the courtroom of the masses. 

Judging by the ‘verdicts’ thrown around, if Panayiotou was not in custody today, he could have probably been publicly lynched by now.

Mob lynching in South Africa? Maybe not, but even now if the courts, were (for argument’s sake) find Panayiotou innocent, he will still spend the rest of his days with a dark smudge of ink next to his name. Most people have come to believe that he is guilty full stop - and even if the courts were to declare otherwise, they will still claim that this has happened before.

It did. Most people still feel (perhaps with good reason too) that Pistorius got off lightly for killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, – and now he is due for parole in August.

“The rich always get away with murder” has now become more apparent to many.

But, have we lost faith in our justice system so much so that we cannot wait for 'alleged' criminals to have their innocence or guilt tested through the system?

Perhaps it is time that everyone takes a step back and let the law take its course. Whatever the judgement, its why we live in this democracy and agreed to abide by its laws. 

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