SANFE strongly condemns Senior Magistrate's abuse of Witness journalists
1 August 2018
The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) strongly condemns the abuse of Witness court reporter, Sharika Regchand by Senior Magistrate, Ashin Singh in Pietermaritzburg. SANEF notes this is part of a pattern of abuse by the Magistrate, of a number of Witness journalists, with particular abuse taking place yesterday.
Yesterday Singh instructed that Regchand be forcibly relocated from the front to the public gallery at the back of a courtroom (where he was not presiding). Later he accosted her as she walked out and swore at her, made lewd accusations and threatening comments about her family.
Over the past few weeks the Witness has enlisted their legal counsel to lodge a complaint against Magistrate Singh with the Magistrates Commission. This relates to his abusive behaviour towards Regchand, another Witness reporter, Kerushun Pillay and news editor, Ingrid Harrison.
Singh has threatened to throw Regchand out of cases he is presiding over, and abused Pillay over stories the Witness has and hasn’t run. He has likewise attacked Harrison over the same issue amid a general attack on the Witness and how they cover stories related to him.
Magistrate Singh has a controversial history. He has had numerous complaints laid against him with the Magistrates Commission. Most recently he has been involved in a legal dispute with a prominent KZN businessman convicted of fraud, Visham Panday. Further, he is involved in a dispute with fellow magistrate, Divesh Mootheram. Singh has been unhappy with the way the Witness has portrayed him in these various cases.
SANEF believes that Singh is abusing his position and using his authority as a senior magistrate to harass and intimidate reporters in relation to cases in which he himself is a party. SANEF believes this is highly inappropriate and unethical and supports the Witness’s complaint to the Magistrates Commission. Further, we support Regchand’s decision to lodge a criminal case against the Magistrate on charges of crime injuria and intimidation.
SANEF is worried about a number of incidents that have taken place at magistrate courts around the country where journalists have been arbitrarily barred from covering cases.
However, in June SANEF held a constructive meeting with the Magistrates Commission to begin to resolve these matters. One proposal was for a directive to be circulated from the Commission to all magistrates stating that media representatives should not be prevented from attending court proceedings when performing their jobs, unless there is a legal reason.
SANEF believes strongly that for our Constitutional right to freedom of expression and access to information to be safeguarded we need to ensure that journalists have access to the courts at all levels – including importantly at the local magistrates court level. Resolving these matters is a critical priority.
Issued by Mahlatse Mahlase, SANEF Chairperson, 1 August 2018