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Zuma opens painting court challenge

Scores of supporters of South Africa's president have gathered outside a Johannesburg court house for the start of his challenge of a gallery's right to display a portrait that depicted his genitals.

President Jacob Zuma is asking the High Court to order the gallery to remove the painting on the grounds it violates his constitutional right to dignity.

The gallery and the artist argue that freedom of expression, also protected by the constitution, is at stake.

Three high court judges, among the most senior in South Africa, closely questioned President Jacob Zuma's lawyer as arguments began.

The painting was defaced and removed from the gallery two days ago.

Still, the case is being closely watched because it raises important constitutional issues in a new democracy.

The painting by Brett Murray went on display in the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg this month and came to the African National Congress' attention a week later, after media reported that it had been sold. Mr Zuma, who has a reputation for promiscuity, took the depiction very personally and compared himself somewhat ironically to a rape victim. Mr Zuma himself was put on trial for rape and acquitted in 2006.

"The portrayal has ridiculed and caused me humiliation and indignity," Mr Zuma said in an affidavit.

www.goodman-gallery.com(Goodman Gallery)

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