State declines to prosecute journalist

The case against a journalist who was arrested by Durban’s metro police was thrown out by the Durban Magistrate’s Court on Thursday after the control prosecutor declined to prosecute the case.

Mhlaba Memela of the Sowetan newspaper was arrested on Wednesday evening by an eThekwini metro police officer as he attended an accident scene where a minibus taxi had ploughed into a furniture shop in central Durban.

Memela was charged with inciting a crowd, failing to comply with a police officer’s instruction and resisting arrest.

Memela’s lawyer, Zane Haneef, said: ”The state has declined to prosecute. The state prosecutor said the state would not be able to prove its case against the accused and he does not believe there’s any merit.

”He [the control prosecutor] believes it’s a minor matter … very trivial,” said Haneef.

Memela said he was ”actually very relieved”.

”Thanks to everyone who got involved. The police need to be more trained and learn how to deal with people. I am thinking about those people who might not know their rights.”

Memela said he had not yet decided whether to file a complaint against the arresting police officer.

The South African National Editors’ Forum on Wednesday night condemned the conduct of the Durban metro police.

”Sanef regards such interference with journalists carrying out their duties as serious interference with the role of the media and demands that investigations be instituted and the guilty officers punished.”

Memela was released from Durban Central police station several hours after being arrested.

A South African Press Association reporter witnessed Memela taking pictures before an eThekwini Metro policeman bundled him into a police van for allegedly ”disturbing my scene”.

No cordon had been placed around the accident scene at the time that Memela was thrown into the back of the van.

The Mercury reported that Sowetan Durban bureau chief, Mary Pappaya, had denounced the police action.

”From the Sowetan‘s perspective, we find this totally unacceptable,” she said.

”The law clearly states that journalists should be allowed to do their jobs. To our knowledge the scene was not cordoned off and in light of that journalists are entitled to operate freely.

”This is not an isolated incident; journalists and photographers around the country have been arrested and detained purely because police do not understand the law.”

City manager Mike Sutcliffe ordered an inquiry into the matter, the Mercury reported.

”I’m certainly not happy as to how the events unfolded. I do want to listen to all sides and I have ordered a full report with sworn statements from the police, and we want to speak to members of the public and other journalists who witnessed the situation.

”Journalists have a special place in society and we as the municipality must allow them to do their work. It must be that if they interfere in any investigation we have every right to step in.” — Sapa

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