Cape Town, South Africa, January 29, 2014--South African authorities should drop charges against a journalist who was roughed up and detained after photographing police officers allegedly involved in bribery, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Ricky Dire, a journalist with the Daily Sun, also received death threats.
In a telephone interview with CPJ, Dire said that on the evening of Friday, January 18, he responded to a call from store owners at a shopping center in Rustenburg North, a platinum mining town. The store owners had told him on previous occasions that they routinely had to pay bribes to the local police.
Dire said he took "three or four" pictures of the two police officers who were talking to shop owners as well as of their vehicle license plate. Dire said he did not see any money change hands. The conversation ended when police spotted him taking photos, he said.
Dire said the police officers gave him several blows with their fists before arresting him. Police spokesman Sgt. Kealeboga Molale said the arresting officers charged him with intimidation and resisting arrest, according to news reports. They also claimed he was drunk. Dire denied the allegations. He is due to appear in court on February 6.
Daily Sun Deputy Editor Reggy Moalusi told CPJ that the police threatened to keep Dire in jail for the weekend, but he was released around midnight after the newspaper's lawyers were called. When his cellphone was returned to him, all the photographs had been deleted, Dire told CPJ.
In a conversation with CPJ on Monday, January 27, Dire said that he had received two anonymous text messages on January 20 that threatened his life. When he tried to call the number from which they had been sent, the phone was switched off. He said his wife received a phone call on January 22 that said their daughter had been abducted because of the wife's "journalist husband." Their daughter was safe.
Tuesday, police came and took a statement from Dire about the threatening messages he had received, Dire told CPJ.
Thandi Modise, premier of the North West Province, has urged the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, a statutory body that investigates complaints of alleged wrongdoing by members of the South African Police Services, to investigate the threats against Dire as well as his arrest and alleged assault by North West police. A commission probing deaths in violent protests in South Africa heard on Tuesday that North West police earlier in January fired banned shotgun pellets during a demonstration which left four people dead, according to news reports.
"Free and independent media that show what is happening in society are a vital part of democracy," said Sue Valentine, CPJ's Africa program coordinator. "As South Africa celebrates 20 years of freedom, we urge authorities to ensure that all officers understand and respect the right of journalists to do their jobs without fear of intimidation or violence, and that those who commit abuses are punished."