SAIRR: Arrest to intimidate media
Johannesburg – The arrest of Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi Wa Afrika is an effort to intimidate journalists in South Africa, the SA Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) said on Thursday.
Wa Afrika was arrested in Johannesburg on Wednesday for alleged fraud and defeating the ends of justice.
He was apparently arrested for the possession of what police claim was a fraudulent letter of resignation from Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza to President Jacob Zuma.
"The Institute suspects that this document is not the actual motivation for the arrest but that the arrest is an effort by the police and the government to intimidate journalists in South Africa," the SAIRR said in a statement.
The SAIRR said South African media had published a great number of exposé of corruption and wrongdoing by senior leaders of the government and the ruling ANC.
"These have deeply embarrassed the government and eroded confidence in the bona fides of the ANC."
On Sunday the Sunday Times published a front page report alleging that the national police commissioner General Bheki Cele signed a R500m rental agreement for new police headquarters. Wa Afrika was one of the reporters.
Cele, in a briefing about the deal, described Wa Afrika as a "very shady journalist". Wa Afrika was arrested the following day by a large contingent of police from the Hawks unit.
"It is very unusual, perhaps without precedent, for so many officers from such an elite unit to conduct an arrest on this scale for a fraud and defeating the ends of justice complaint of this nature," the SAIRR said.
Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille slammed "the outrageous manner" in which Wa Afrika was arrested.
"When seen within the context of the ANC’s proposal to set up a Media Appeals Tribunal in Parliament, designed to ensure the ruling party’s view is given preference over anybody else’s, this arrest is yet another worrying sign that the ANC is stepping up its onslaught on media freedom," she said.
De Lille condemned the intimidating manner in which Wa Afrika was arrested and the "alarming allegation" that he was held at an undisclosed location.
"If his arrest was designed to punish him for his story on Cele’s suspicious decisions, then God help our nation.
"It is certainly hard to think up any positive possibilities because even if Wa Afrika has indeed committed a crime of some sort, then the way in which he was arrested was still designed to send a message to the press," De Lille said.
United Democratic Movement Youth described the arrest as a "mafia style arrest" which "smells of dictatorship tendencies" and media repression.
"The UDM Youth Vanguard is calling on Sanef (SA National Editors' Forum) and all media institutions to take their rightful positions in defence of our democracy. We are calling for an independent body to investigate this arrest and appropriate action be taken against the police thugs."