A CONTROVERSIAL advert calling on President Jacob Zuma to ban the lion bone trade should go back up on the walls of OR Tambo International Airport, a court ordered on Thursday.

South Gauteng High Court Judge Frank Bashall said Airports Company South Africa’s (Acsa’s) instruction that the advert be removed from OR Tambo’s arrivals hall had breached the "fundamental" right to freedom of expression.

The advert, which raised eyebrows when it was first displayed last year, shows a lioness looking up the barrel of a gun. Behind them is the face of Mr Zuma.

The caption reads: "President Zuma can save her life."

Under the caption, the advert reads: "Our lions are being slaughtered to make bogus sex potions for Asia. Will President Zuma save them? Urge him to stop the deadly lion bone trade now."

Commissioned by international advocacy group the Avaaz Foundation, posters of the advert were emblazoned on the sides of 10 pillars in the arrivals hall at South Africa’s busiest airport.

They were supposed to stay up for a month. But just nine days in, Acsa had instructed media company Primedia, which had the advertising concession at OR Tambo, to take them down.

In court, Acsa had argued that it had a duty to promote South Africa as a tourist destination and to portray the country in a good light. The airports operator had, in terms of its contract with Primedia, the right to order the company to take down adverts if it found them "objectionable".

Acsa said the advert was likely to reinforce the impression that South Africa was a violent place and that many visiting foreigners might not be able to understand the advert’s caption.

But Judge Bashall dismissed the argument, saying "at best, it is speculative". He said it might well be that the advert would "appeal to conservation-minded tourists".

The right to freedom of expression could, under the constitution, only justifiably be limited by a "law of general application". But in this case, it was a term of a contract, applying only between Acsa and Primedia, that had undermined the right.

Judge Bashall said Avaaz was entitled to effective relief and ordered that the advert go back up for the remaining 22 days.