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Sanef calls on police to ensure protection of journo who fled to Lesotho

This after Paul Nthoba was allegedly assaulted by police last Friday while profiling the visibility of the South African Police Services (SAPS) in the township of Meqheleng, in the Free State, last Friday.

Sanef logo. Picture: Sanef website.

JOHANNESBURG - The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) on Wednesday said that it was “deeply concerned” that a community media journalist had been forced to flee the country and seek refuge in Lesotho.

This after Paul Nthoba was allegedly assaulted by police last Friday while profiling the visibility of the South African Police Services (SAPS) in the township of Meqheleng, Free State, who were making sure that citizens were adhering to COVID-19 lockdown regulations.

“He was physically abused and beaten up in the township of Meqheleng, close to the Lesotho border,” Sanef said in the statement.

The editors’ forum said that following the traumatic incident, Nthoba went to the Ficksburg Police Station to lay a complaint but instead of being assisted by the police, he faced further abuse.

“While at the police station, the same police officers that had assaulted him, arrived and wanted to bar him from opening a case, and instead they insisted that he should be charged for contravening the Disaster Management Act. We understand Nthoba was further assaulted while in the charge office,” Sanef said.

The organisation said that Nthoba told it that he decided to cross the border into Lesotho to seek refuge at the United Nations offices in the neighbouring country because he feared for his life.

“Following the assault, he has seen marked police vehicles patrolling his street and another parked in the street a few meters from his home, with no explanation. His family became extremely concerned and he decided to flee.

“He reached out to the United Nations office in the country and together with the Lesotho government they are protecting him. He has been placed under quarantine due to the coronavirus restrictions.”

According to Sanef, the same police officers who assaulted Nthoba continued to be on duty.

Nthoba confirmed that police watchdog, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid), came to see him on Monday. He was in the process of completing his supplementary and detailed statement for the Ipid when he observed the “intimidatory tactics” of the SAPS officers.

Nthoba has pleaded for assurance from the SAPS that he would be safe, Sanef said.

Sanef chairperson Mahlatse Mahlase said they were in contact with Police Minister Bheki Cele and had also formally written to him. She said Cele had assured them that he would take this matter up with the national and provincial police commissioners to ensure that this issue was dealt with as a matter of urgency.

“We need the police to give assurance that he can return home and will be safe. It is unacceptable that a South African citizen must fear the very people who are supposed to protect him. We would also like to know what action the SAPS will be taking against the police officers that remain on duty in the small town,” Mahlase said.