A journalist in Meqheleng, South Africa claims he was assaulted not once, but twice by a group of police officers while attempting to document coronavirus lockdown enforcement for his newspaper. The Committee to Protect Journalists is calling for an investigation, and asking that charges against the journalist be dropped.
According to a local news report, journalist Paul Nthoba, owner and editor of the local newspaper Mohokare News, was out by the Caledon River on Friday investigating complaints that lockdown enforcement in the area was “too slack.” While walking around the area, he saw a group of four police officers and proceeded to take their picture in order to prove that the accusations of lax enforcement were unfounded.
He took the picture, intending to ask the officers how they were doing, but before he could one of them allegedly responded with “a deeply offensive swear word.” The altercation quickly escalated from there when, according to Nthoba, the senior officer ordered the others to attack him. While Nthoba was not able to record the incident on video, he did capture this audio recording.
But this was only the first of two run-ins with the officers that day. Later, when Nthoba went to the Ficksburg police station to file an official complaint, he was allegedly attacked again.
According to the CPJ, the same officers arrived at the station while Nthoba was attempting to lodge his complaint, and proceeded to slap, punch and kick him in full view of a senior officer at the station. He was then detained in a holding cell for four hours, before being released on charges of obstructing law enforcement—a charge that could land him in jail for up to six months if he is found guilty. The police are also charging him with failure to produce a COVID-19 work permit, though Nthoba says he does have a permit, but was never asked to show it during either incident.
After being released, he was treated for “trauma, bruises, and swelling in his face, mouth, and head, as well as internal injuries,” according to his statement to the CPJ.
Nthoba is due to appear in court on August 27th, but the journalistic community is rallying around him, demanding a “swift investigation” into the incident by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, which has already confirmed they are looking into the matter. Nthoba himself is planning to sue the South Africa Police Service and National Police Minister Bheki Cele.
Image credits: Header photo of Caledon River by Graham Maclachlan, CC BY-SA 3.0