Press club calls for probe into spying allegations

The National Press Club on Monday called for an urgent investigation into a claim that a Sunday Independent journalist was being tailed and her phone tapped following a report containing allegations of fraud and corruption in the police’s crime intelligence division.

“The allegations are very worrying and the police have a lot of questions to answer,” said club chairperson Yusuf Abramjee in a statement.

The publication reported that Gcwalisile Khanyile became aware that she had became placed under surveillance after the high court in Johannesburg granted an order preventing further publication of corruption allegations contained in a story she wrote.

The publication is appealing this judgement.

In the meantime, according to the report on December 19, Khanyile “discovered that agents had been assigned to follow her and that her cellphone had been tapped”, the newspaper said.

Editor Makhuru Sefara said they had information showing this, and that operatives had been instructed to befriend their reporters “with a view to infiltrating our—and other—newsrooms across the country”.

An unnamed reporter at the Star was allegedly approached by a known intelligence officer “with promises of money and exclusive stories in return for her to work as a spy for the cops”, the report continued.

Khanyile’s relatives and a friend in Gauteng received calls, allegedly from intelligence agents, asking for personal information on her.

As a result, the publication said it was lodging a complaint with the Inspector General of Intelligence, Faith Radebe.

Serious implications
Sefara was not immediately available to comment, and police intelligence spokesperson Colonel Tummi Shai told the South African Press Association they would not comment immediately.

Abramjee said if the allegations were true, the implications were serious.

“We agree with lawyers for the Sunday Independent that covert surveillance, interception and monitoring of communications and intimidation of journalists cannot fall within the scope of lawful activities permitted by the relevant legislation.”

Legislation governing such matters includes the Secret Service Act, the Constitution and the Intelligence Act.

Abramjee called for the head of crime intelligence, Richard Mdluli, to be suspended with immediate effect pending the probe.

The report comes amid controversy over the Protection of Information Bill, which in its original form would have enabled state functionaries, even at municipal level, to classify any government information under the broad term of “in the national interest”. This would also have included commercial information. This Bill then criminalises and sets out lengthy jail terms for possession of such information.
Critics are concerned that it can be abused when reporters or members of the public seek or find information to prove corruption or mismanagement.

The committee would meet again in January for further work on the Bill.

During the apartheid era it was not uncommon for some reporters to be paid by security forces to spy on their colleagues or pass on information gleaned from sources.—Sapa

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