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Johannesburg - Journalists carrying out their
professional duties should be protected from interference, the SA National
Editors' Forum (Sanef) said on Friday.
Sanef was responding to an incident on Wednesday, when
journalists on an official visit to Groenpunt Prison were detained after taking
pictures of prison warders beating a prisoner, who later died.
"The journalists said the official erased not only
the pictures of the prisoner being beaten up, but other pictures that had
nothing to do with the Groenpunt visit," the forum said in a statement.
"Sanef believes that the deletion of photographs was
an attempt to destroy evidence and merits charges of defeating the ends of
justice against those responsible."
The forum said the tour of the prison was arranged by the
parliamentary portfolio committee on correctional service, after prisoners were
involved in violent protests a week earlier.
"Sanef is astonished that journalists... who were
invited to tour the facility by the parliamentary committee were surrounded by
armed warders who ordered them out of their cars," it said.
"The journalists were held for an hour and described
their treatment as 'humiliating and terrifying'. They said they had
'co-operated under duress'."
The correctional services officials took away the journalists'
cameras, memory cards and cellphones, and deleted their photographs.
On Friday, correctional services said a Groenpunt inmate
who was assaulted by warders at the prison had died.
Free State Deputy Regional Commissioner Grace Molatedi
said: "I can confirm that the inmate had died, but I can't confirm that he
died as a result of the attack," she said.
"The police have been instructed to conduct a
post-mortem because the cause of death is not known. He died immediately after
Emergency personnel, police officers and prison officials
"The life of [a] prison official was at stake. It is
policy for other officials to intervene and use any means necessary to restrain
the inmates in a situation like that."
Three prisoners were involved in the attack on the
official and a fourth apparently provided the weapons used in the attack.
Investigations were continuing.
Sanef said the journalists and photographers were at the
prison on an officially sanctioned assignment and should have been protected
"Indeed, the committee was seriously at fault for
leaving the scene when the journalists were detained, instead of interceding
and protecting them," Sanef said.
"Having been invited by the committee, the
journalists should have been accorded the same immunity from interference as
the parliamentarians were entitled to."
Sanef said it would request parliament to investigate the
incident and to adopt mechanisms to ensure the protection of journalists when
they were covering work by members of parliament.
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