Physical abuse and incarceration of journalist concerning – SANEF

Forum says police members allegedly objected to Paul Nthoba taking photos, and accosted him

SANEF deeply disturbed by the physical abuse and incarceration of a journalist

16 May 2020

The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) is deeply disturbed to hear of the abuse of community media journalist, Paul Nthoba, by the South African Police Services (SAPS), in a township Meqheleng, close to the Lesotho border. However, we are even more deeply disturbed to hear of the abuse and incarceration he subsequently experienced at the Ficksburg police station, where he went to lay an assault charge.

On 15 May 2020 at around 2 pm, Nthoba was on a news-gathering assignment in Ficksburg focusing on the Covid-19 news coverage for the community newspaper he had launched, Mohokare News.

Nthoba was profiling the visibility of the police members who were making sure that citizens were adhering to the lockdown rules and regulations. Nthoba reported that he saw the police patrolling the streets, and he captured a few photos. However, the police members objected. They accosted him, confiscated his phone, and told him that he had not explicitly requested their permission. An argument ensued, and they started attacking, insulting, and assaulting him. SANEF has an audio recording of this abusive interaction.

Immediately after this traumatic incident, Nthoba went to the Ficksburg police station to lay a charge. When he got to the station, the same police officers arrived and started protesting that he should not be allowed to open the case; instead, they insisted that he should be charged for contravening the Disaster Management Act. They again assaulted him while in the charge office, accusing him of causing trouble for them ever since he had established his newspaper. He was then kept for four hours in the holding cells.

Nthoba was then taken to the Fiksburg Hospital to deal with his injuries and trauma.

SANEF is deeply concerned to hear about this abuse out in the field – but also, even more worryingly, at the police station, the very place where Nthoba had sought refuge and to hold the police offices accountable.

SANEF notes that community media platforms present critical local alternatives to mainstream print and broadcasting. We believe that they play an important role in diversifying the media, profiling local voices, reflecting local struggles, and building communities by holding local authorities to account. We believe that journalists and media at this level, often experience more abuse than affluent, often more high-profile mainstream media – we thus must ensure their protection. We believe that SAPS leadership – and the leadership of all security authorities – should apply a zero-tolerance policy against all forms of harassment towards all our media.

Finally, SANEF will be taking this matter up with the security authorities at the highest levels – including the list of other abuse charges that have taken place under lockdown. SANEF has had several informal discussions with the SAPS, with IPID and with the Metropolitan Police in Cape Town. We now have consolidated a list of abuses. Once again, we will be calling for a meeting with the National Commissioner of Police, IPID and the Metropolitan police in Cape Town.

Issued by Kate Skinner, SANEF Executive Director, 16 May 2020