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Sanef condemns arrest of Sunday Times reporters

Sanef Statement 25 November 2014

The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) is deeply perturbed by the detention and arrest of two Sunday Times reporters by prison authorities in KwaZulu-Natal.
On 15 November the two reporters visited the Durban Westville during visitors’ hours in an attempt to conduct an interview with the convicted drug-dealer, Sheryl Cwele. The reporters presented their identity documents to prison officials and proceeded to a meeting with Cwele, who refused to grant them an interview but exchanged pleasantries with the journalists.

After a brief exchange, the reporters left the prison. Cwele allegedly alerted prison authorities to their presence, and they were detained at the prison for five hours by armed security guards. The journalists were separated and their handbags and cellphones confiscated. During this time, they were denied access to their attorney.
The correctional service officials called in the police, who escorted the journalists to the Westville Police Station, where they were charged with contravening the Correctional Services Act. They were released on R500 bail each.

On 17 November charges were withdrawn at the Pinetown Magistrate’s Court after the public prosecutor declined to prosecute. Subsequently, the acting national commissioner, Zach Modise, claimed the journalists disguised their identities during the visit and broke the law. This is untrue.
Sanef condemns the actions of the prison officials in the strongest terms and Modise’s attempts to further intimidated the Sunday Times reporters, rather than apologise for his own staff’s hard-handed bullying of journalists who broke no law.

Sanef demands an apology by Modise to the Sunday Times, its editor and reporters; restitution of costs by the DCS (including those of the newspaper’s legal representatives) and compensation for the wrongful arrest, illegal detention and forced appearance in court; and that disciplinary action be taken against the prison officers responsible for the detention of the journalists.

Sanef supports whatever legal action the Sunday Times and its reporters initiate against the DCS and the officers concerned.
This was a serious violation of media freedom as enshrined by the Constitution. Modise should take it upon himself to sensitise his officials about the rights and freedoms enjoyed by the media at large and journalists in particular.