Activists are calling for all charges against a photographer to be dismissed after he was beaten by police multiple times after photographing them enforcing a coronavirus lockdown.
The incident took place on May 15 in Meqheleng, South Africa. Paul Nthoba, owner and editor of Mohokare News, a local newspaper, was photographing police who were on patrol to enforce the coronavirus lockdown. According to reports and Nthoba himself, one of the officers yelled something offensive about his mother at him, prompting him to approach them. When he did, the four officers proceeded to physically assault him and claim he was not authorized to take photos of them. Nthoba played an audio recording of the attack for a representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists, during which the blows can be heard along with demands to relinquish his phone.
Nthoba was then charged with obstructing law enforcement, which carries with a penalty of a fine and up to six months in prison. He in turn went to the Ficksburg police station to file a complaint. Initially, officers refused to give him a complaint form, but eventually did when a retired officer who is a friend of his advocated for it. While he was giving a statement, the same officers arrived and proceeded to attempt to take his phone again and beat him when he resisted. A senior officer who witnessed the second incident told him he should not have photographed the officers. After a detainment in a holding cell, he was charged and released, then given back his phone.
Nthoba was treated for face, mouth, head, and bodily wounds, as well as internal injuries at a local hospital, after which he went into hiding for fear of further harm and retaliation. Nthoba's lawyer, Dan Thulo, has said he plans to pursue a civil claim due to the incident. A police spokesperson said they would not take any action until receiving a report from the Independent Police Investigative Directorate. A spokesperson for the directorate confirmed the receipt of a complaint and that Nthoba had been charged for failing to show a pandemic work permit. Nthoba claims he had a permit but was never asked to produce it and that his charges do not match this.
CPJ Africa program coordinator Angela Quintal said:
Authorities must do the right thing and immediately drop the charge against Paul Nthoba, who was insulted and gratuitously assaulted by police for simply chronicling them at work. For the same officers to feel so emboldened that they could beat him again, this time in a police station in front of a senior officer when he sought to open an assault case, is beyond belief. Authorities must not let them get away with this violence and intimidation toward the press.”
Nthoba is due in court on August 27.
Lead image via Pixabay.