Unlawful police detainment of journalists must stop immediately

Dan Plato, MPP

Western Cape Minister of Community Safety

Following reports in the media that a journalist was unlawfully detained, threatened with arrest, and intimidated by South African police officers earlier this week, I will be asking the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) for a full investigation into the matter.

The report in the Daily Sun alleges that one of their journalists, while covering the scene of a vigilante attack in Phillipi on Tuesday, took photographs of policemen allegedly taking photos of the seriously injured victim with their cell phones instead of providing him with assistance. The journalist claims that he heard the officers saying that they were going to post the photos on Facebook.

If this is true then the police officers have violated the victim’s dignity by taking photos for fun social media purposes and not to support any type of investigation. When the officers saw the journalist taking pictures of them they allegedly put him in the back of a police van and held him at the Nyanga police station for two hours.

The journalist also alleges that the officers tried to make him delete his pictures, and threatened to arrest him for attempted murder. If true, this kind of behaviour is totally unacceptable.  A growing number of journalists across the country have been arrested or assaulted by the police while doing their job, which has serious implications for our freedom of the press.

Journalists must be allowed to cover news freely without the fear of being arrested by the police who are meant to be protecting our society, and upholding the law.

The Daily Sun also reported that no arrests have made in relation to the assault and murder of the victim.  It appears the policemen were more interested in harassing the journalist than tracking down and arresting the perpetrators of this violence.

While we understand that communities are frustrated and angry, the taking of human life and the disregard for the rule of law that took place in this vigilante killing has no place in a constitutional democracy.  It is critical that those responsible are brought to justice.

The treatment of the journalist and of the vigilante violence victim by the South African Police Service (SAPS) raises serious questions with regards to the police officers’ conduct. I have therefore referred this matter to the IPID for investigation. The Constitution (Sect 206(6)) obliges the IPID to investigate complaints lodged with it by the Provincial Executive.