The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) has appealed to Ficksburg community journalist Paul Nthoba to contact its investigator as soon as possible as this will assist in speeding up the investigation into his alleged assault and continued intimidation by police officers.
Nthoba was forced to seek refuge at the United Nations offices in Lesotho after he became concerned about his and his family’s safety, the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) said on Wednesday.
On Friday, Nthoba was snapping a picture of police officers on patrol near the Caledon River, separating South Africa and Lesotho, when he was allegedly beaten for taking the picture, News24 reported.
Nthoba, who is the editor of the Mohokare News, named after the Sesotho word for the Caledon River, told News24 after this happened, he went to the police station in Ficksburg to lay a charge of assault against the officers. He said at the station he was threatened with a Disaster Management Act infraction.
The journalist explained he was at the river on Friday because some locals had complained that policing in the area was too slack.
He said that he is known in the area, and when he saw the officers he thought: “Oh look, that’s a nice shot – there are policemen.”
READ | ‘That’s when I realised I was going to get a hiding’ – journalist on alleged ordeal with FS police
He took the picture, planning ahead to include it in an article. “I was going to ask them, ‘How are you doing?’,” he said.
However, he said, one of the police officers responded with a deeply offensive swear word, and the tone changed as he told him he felt insulted. Another officer, who Nthoba regarded as the senior among them, allegedly instructed his colleagues to assault Nthoba.
“That’s when I realised I was going to get a hiding,” Nthoba said.
“Following this traumatic incident, Nthoba went to the Ficksburg police station to lay a charge, but instead of being assisted by the police, he faced further abuse,” Sanef said.
While trying to lay a charge, it is alleged that the same officer who had assaulted him before, arrived and prevented him from opening a case. He insisted that Nthoba should be charged with contravention of the Disaster Management Act.
https://t.co/By0KBr5HQV | Free State journalist forced to flee the country after alleged abuse by SAPS https://t.co/r0djLGEOs9
— News24 (@News24) May 20, 2020
“We understand Nthoba was further assaulted while in the charge office. Nthoba told Sanef that he decided to cross the border into Lesotho to seek refuge at the United Nations offices because he feared for his life,” Sanef said.
After the alleged assault, Nthoba told Sanef that he had seen police vehicles patrolling his street, and that another police vehicle was parked close to his home without explanation.
“His family became extremely concerned and he decided to flee. He reached out to the United Nations office and, together with the Lesotho government, they are protecting him.
“He has been placed under quarantine due to the coronavirus restrictions.”
On Wednesday, IPID said it was investigating Nthoba’s criminal case against the police.
Phone switched off
“On Monday, our investigator met with the journalist at his aunt’s place and, after the meeting, an agreement was reached for a follow-up meeting… the following day or Wednesday,” IPID said.
“However, when our investigator was trying to make contact, he could not reach the journalist as his mobile is always off. His relatives are not divulging the complainant’s whereabouts.
“IPID is not aware of any danger on the journalist’s life. It is important to state that our investigator advised the complainant to call him in case he required any form of assistance, which never happened.
“However, IPID is committed that, as soon as we find and confirm with him about any imminent danger on his life, we are willing to engage the relevant government stakeholders to arrange for his safety.
“IPID is appealing to the journalist to make contact with our investigator as soon as possible as this will assist in speeding up the investigations.
“We have not yet made any arrest as we are still gathering enough evidence which, upon completion the case, will be presented to the National Prosecutions Authority for [a] decision,” IPID said.