Police must ensure protection and safety of journalist – SANEF

Editors’ Forum says Paul Nthoba allegedly assaulted by SAPS members and had to cross border to seek help

SANEF calls on SAPS to ensure the protection and safety of journalist forced to go into hiding

20 May 2020

The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) is deeply concerned that community media journalist, Paul Nthoba, has been forced to flee the country and seek refuge in Lesotho.

Nthoba was assaulted by members of the South African Police Services (SAPS) on 15 May 2020 while profiling the visibility of police members who were making sure that citizens were adhering to the Covid-19 lockdown rules and regulations. He was physically abused and beaten up in the township of Meqheleng, close to the Lesotho border.

Following this traumatic incident, Nthoba went to the Ficksburg police station to lay a charge but instead of being assisted by the police he faced further abuse.

While at the police station, the same police officers that had assaulted him, arrived and wanted to bar him from opening a case, and instead they insisted that he should be charged for contravening the Disaster Management Act. We understand Nthoba was further assaulted while in the charge office.

Nthoba told SANEF that he decided to cross the border into Lesotho to seek refuge at the United Nations offices in Lesotho because he feared for his life.  Following the assault, he has seen marked police vehicles patrolling his street and another parked in the street a few meters from his home, with no explanation. His family became extremely concerned and he decided to flee.

He reached out to the United Nations office in Lesotho and the Lesotho government and together they have been protecting him. He has been placed under quarantine due to the Coronavirus restrictions.

The same SAPS officers who assaulted him, remain on duty.

Nthoba has confirmed that the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), an agency of the South African government responsible for investigating complaints against the SAPS and municipal police services, came to see him on Monday.  He was in the process of completing his supplementary and detailed statement for IPID when he observed the intimidatory tactics of the SAPS officers.

Nthoba has pleaded for assurance from the SAPS that he will be safe.

SANEF Chairperson MahlatseMahlase said: “We need the Police to give assurance that he can return home and will be safe. It is unacceptable that a South African citizen must fear the very people who are supposed to protect him.   We would also like to know what action the SAPS will be taking against the police officers that remain on duty in the small town”.

Finally, SANEF has been in contact with the Minister of Police and has also formally written to him. He has assured us that he will take this matter up with the national and provincial police commissioners to ensure that this issue is dealt with as a matter of urgency.

Issued by Kate Skinner, SANEF Executive Director, 21 May 2020