Free State journalist forced to flee the country after alleged abuse by cops

SAPS wearing masks amid concerns over the spread of Covid-19. (Marco Longari, AFP)
SAPS wearing masks amid concerns over the spread of Covid-19. (Marco Longari, AFP)

Ficksburg community journalist Paul Nthoba has been forced to flee the country following his assault and continued intimidation by officers of the South African Police Services (SAPS), according to the South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef).

Nthoba was forced to seek refuge at the United Nations offices in Lesotho after he became concerned about his and his family's safety, Sanef said.

He was assaulted by officers last week while covering police visibility in the Meqheleng township, near the Lesotho border, where he was allegedly beaten and physically abused.

READ | 'That's when I realised I was going to get a hiding' - journalist on alleged ordeal with FS police

"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.

"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 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.

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While he was trying to lay a complaint with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), Nthoba said he "observed the intimidatory tactics of the SAPS officers", according to Sanef.

"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."

Sanef added that the officers, who allegedly assaulted Nthoba, remain on duty.

Sanef wanted SAPS to provide Nthoba with an assurance that he would not be harmed.

"We need the police to give assurance that he can return home and will be safe," said Sanef chairperson Mahlatse Mahlase.

"It is unacceptable that a South African citizen must fear the very people who are supposed to protect him.   

"We would also like to know what action SAPS will be taking against the police officers that remain on duty in the small town," Mahlase added.

Mahlase said Sanef had formally written to Minister of Police Bheki Cele.

"He has assured us that he will take this matter up with the national and provincial police commissioners to ensure that this issue is dealt with as a matter of urgency," Mahlase said.

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