The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) has learnt with dismay the wanton assault and harassment on journalist Paul Nthoba and calls on authorities in South Africa to investigate the matter.
According to reports, the incident happened on May 15, 2020, when Nthoba photographed officers of South African Police Serviceswho were on patrol enforcing a COVID-19 lockdown in the township of Meqheleng, close to the Lesotho border.
The journalist after taking the photograph approached some of the police officers to interview them. However, one of the officers hurledoffensive statement at Nthoba and slapped him. Another officer reportedly slapped Nthoba while three others kicked him, saying the journalist did not have their permission to photograph them.
Following this traumatic incident, Nthoba went to the Ficksburg police station to lodge a complaint, but instead of being assisted by the police, he faced further abuse.”
The police officers at the station and those who had assaulted the journalist earlier, reportedly prevented the journalist from filing a formal complaint on the assault.
Nthoba was also assaulted by police officers while in the charge office.
The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF), has reported that following the assault, Nthoba and his family saw “marked police vehicles patrolling his street and another parked in the street a few metres from his home, with no explanation.”
Fearing for his life, Nthoba reportedly crossed the border into Lesotho and sought protection at the United Nations offices in Lesotho.
According to SANEF, despite assurances from the Police Ministry that “the matter would be taken up with the national and provincial police commissioners to be dealt with as a matter of urgency,” the officers who assaulted the journalist are still at post.
Nthoba has also been charged with obstructing law enforcement under a COVID-19 regulation of the Disaster Management Act of 2002. If convicted, he could face up to six months in prison.
AFEX finds the assault on Nthoba very worrying. We are particularly concerned that after assaulting the journalist, the police were patrolling Nthoba’s neighbourhood to further harass him and his family. No journalist should be assaulted and harassed to the point that they flee in fear for their lives. We are, therefore, urging the Police Ministry to expedite investigations into the matter and ensure that the police officers who were involved in the assault are brought to book. We are also urging the Ministry to ensure his safety and that of his family. We further urge the authorities to ensure that all charges against him be dropped and all harassment ceased.