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SA National Editors’ Forum Press Statement on illegal assaults and arrests of journalists

Sanef wants illegal assaults and arrests of journalists dealt with by highest authority

The SA National Editors’ Forum condemns two outrageous illegal police attacks on press photographers in Pretoria and Bloemfontein while they were carrying out their duties of informing the public by picturing incidents in the two cities on Friday, February 4.

Pretoria News Chief Photographer Masi Losi was taking pictures of the police bundling an alleged thief into their police van outside the newspaper’s office after he had been rescued from a mob when one of the policemen, according to Losi, shouted, “He’s taking pictures”.

The policeman’s colleague tried to take Losi’s camera from him. Losi said he was grabbed by the throat and thrown to the ground but fought back. He was pulled back into the building by colleagues who argued with the police over his rights as a photographer.  By then eight police cars had arrived and some 30 police officers tried to storm the Pretoria News office demanding the release of Losi who they wanted to arrest for “interfering” with their work.

Executive editor Jos Charle who had seen the police manhandling Losi refused the police entry and called Gauteng police commissioner Lieut-General Mzwandlile Petros who apparently ordered the police not to arrest Losi and leave the premises.

In Bloemfontein, Volksblad photographer Theo Jeptha came across a group of schoolchildren fighting in the street while two policemen in a police car nearby sat watching without taking action. When he began taking pictures of the fight one of the policemen climbed out of the car and grabbed Jeptha’s camera while bundling him into the back of the vehicle and drove off. After making a cellphone call, the policemen turned the car around and returned to the spot where they released him.

The actions of the police in both instances was clearly illegal and appeared to be motivated by the improper objective of preventing pictures of their conduct in public being published in the newspapers. The Pretoria police claimed that Losi was “defeating the ends of justice by interfering with them” when he was taking pictures of their conduct in a public place and breaking no law.

Petros has reportedly told the Pretoria News that he will investigate the incident.

Sanef, which has complained to the Minister of Police and the national Police Commissioner on more than one occasion about the some dozen similar illegal arrests in the last 18 months—all ending in the cases being thrown out of court—wants the police responsible charged in court and punished. Sanef believes that despite its complaints at high level the police have not been informed of the contents of Police Standing Orders which instruct police officers to aid journalists covering public incidents—just the opposite to assaulting and arresting them.

Sanef draws attention to the local and international outcry over the manner in which police arrested and treated Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika on spurious charges of defeating the ends of justice and fraud in August and later in September, a few days after the case against Wa Afrika was thrown out of court, detaining three photographers for 45 minutes for taking pictures outside a police station. Sanef believes that this continuing illegal conduct by the police against the press—which in the Pretoria instance forced the staff to bar the police entry to their building – has taken on such alarming and serious proportions that they merit intervention at the highest level of government.

Accordingly, it is sending this protest to President Jacob Zuma, reminding him that the police conduct constitutes not only serious criminal offences but contravene the key freedom of the press clause in the Constitution (Clause 16) and strike at the heart of the application of the Bill of Rights. Sanef requests President Zuma to take especial note of the Bill of Rights Clauses 7 (2) which states, “The state must respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights in the Bill of Rights’’ and 8 (1), which states, “The Bill of Rights applies to all law, and binds the legislature, the executive, the judiciary and all organs of state” and to act accordingly.

It is quite clear that these principles are being completely ignored not only by the police officers concerned in the actual incidents but by their superiors by not instilling in members of the police service generally the Constitutional principles and the duties applying specifically to the police as outlined in police Standing Orders.

Issued by the SA National Editors’ Forum (SANEF)