Student demonstrations repressed; journalists covering protests also attacked

Student demonstrations repressed; journalists covering protests also attacked

Peaceful Assembly

For over a year, South Africa has been engulfed by a series of higher education student protests over tuition fees, centred around the #FeesMustFall campaign. During September the protests flared leading to several clashes between police and university students throughout the country. Initially exercising caution in dealing with protesting students, university security and the police became increasingly brutal during September, eventually using excessive force, arresting and injuring students, university staff and journalists covering the demonstrations.

On 28th September, police were captured on camera dragging a male Rhodes University student to a police van. Private security and police also used brute force against protesting students and media personnel covering the protests at the University of JohannesburgOfficials from both universities subsequently condemned the brutality, and the President of South Africa himself issued a statement on 29th September urging police to act within the law and students to behave responsibly in the exercise of their right to freedom of assembly. South Africa's "Security Cluster" Ministers, led by the Minister of Police, also held a press conference to condemn police brutality and demand that police perform their functions according to the laws and the Constitution, while also warning students not to break the law.

Expression

Journalists covering protests by university students have increasingly come under attack. On 28th August, private security from the Universtity of Johannesburg beat, punched and peper-sprayed several reporters and photographers. The South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) expressed outrage at the attacks against the journalists doing their jobs "for the benefit of society" and posing no threat to anyone. According to Sanef executive director Mathatha Tsedu,

"Yesterday's incidents are in line with a discomforting trend we have noticed where journalists become targets of private security while covering public protests."

Sanef also condemned the hostility of student leaders towards journalists and asked them to open channels of communication with media houses when they believe the coverage to be inaccurate or unfair.

In a separate incident, Kaveel Singh, a News24 journalist covering the student protest at the University of KwaZulu Natal in Durban was arrested and charged with trespassing. He was detained by private security and arrested by police after his cellphone was confiscated and video footage deleted. News24 editor-in-chief Adriaan Basson complained:

"It is outrageous for the police to charge journalists with trespassing for doing their jobs. University grounds are open spaces and we were reporting on a story of national interest...This is another flagrant abuse of power by trigger happy police and metro police officers and private security."