Police watchdog to probe arrest of journalists

The Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) is to investigate recent police action against two Sowetan journalists, the Democratic Alliance said on Tuesday.

Member of Parliament Dianne Kohler-Barnard said head of the police watchdog body Francois Beukman had confirmed this in a letter she received on Monday.

“The matter will be given the necessary attention and progress will be reported to you in due course,” Beukman wrote in the letter released by the MP.

Penwell Dlamini and Antonio Muchave were arrested by Hillbrow police on December 29 and their equipment was confiscated.

They were detained while covering a story on the eviction of nine families from Regal Court flats in the Johannesburg city centre.

Their cameras and cellphones were taken without apparent evidence that they interfered in the work of the police, Kohler-Barnard said.

The journalists were reportedly detained at the Hillbrow police station for about an hour.

Kohler-Barnard said this action appeared to have been unlawful.

“Section 69 of the SA Police Service Act provides parameters in which the police may legitimately limit photographic activity that may interfere with their work,” she said.

“From the evidence that has been presented publicly, it appears clear that no arrest could have taken place in terms of section 69 in this particular instance.”

Growing trend
Kohler-Barnard said the ICD investigation needed to shed light on why the arrests took place, and upon what basis the police had confiscated equipment.

She said the ICD also needed to find out why various police officials had given “completely contradictory accounts of why these events transpired”.

“On the one hand, police spokesperson Noxolo Kweza condemned these arrests as unacceptable; on the other, station commander Colonel Van Rhyn maintained that the arrests were perfectly legitimate.”

Kohler-Barnard said there appeared to be a growing trend of arbitrary police arrests of journalists.

“The arrest in August of Mzilikazi wa Afrika of the Sunday Times rightly created a national outcry, but the two arrests last week were treated in a far more low-key manner. We must be careful not to allow such events to become commonplace,” the MP said.

“If wrongdoing has transpired, then we need to ensure that disciplinary steps are taken against those who are responsible for what appears to be an abuse of police power on the free media.” – Sapa

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