A newspaper editor fled South Africa last week after police repeatedly assaulted him for covering the country’s strict coronavirus lockdowns, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said on Wednesday.
On May 19, local journalist Paul Nthoba fled South Africa for the neighboring country of Lesotho after receiving repeated abuse from local law enforcement for his coverage of the region’s stringent coronavirus lockdowns.
“This is the first time in post-apartheid South Africa that a journalist has fled the country with the intention of seeking asylum as a result of reprisals in connection with their reporting,” RSF said.
According to the report, Nthoba was “punched and kicked by police while covering the [coronavirus lockdown] operation in [the town of] Ficksburg” for the first time on May 15.” Nthoba told RSF he visited the Ficksburg police station to file a complaint about the abuse on the same day but was “punched and kicked again” and then detained for several hours afterward.
“They promised to deal with me once I’m released,” he said.
Nthoba said he then reported the assaults to South Africa’s Independent Police Investigative Directorate, but to no avail. The journalist has since been charged with “violating lockdown regulations” and faces up to six months in prison under South Africa’s Disaster Management Act, which was amended in April to assist with regulations during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the report.
Arnaud Froger, the director of RSF’s Africa desk, condemned South Africa’s attack on press freedom during the pandemic.
“It is unthinkable in the South Africa of 2020 that a journalist should have to flee the country for covering a simple lockdown operation. The police cannot act with complete impunity on the grounds that they are enforcing the lockdown,” Froger said.
In late March, Johannesburg police fired rubber bullets at Azarrah Karrim, a journalist for South Africa’s News24, as she reported on the first day of the national lockdown.
Under South Africa’s strict lockdown measures, people who are found guilty of “disseminating false information” about the coronavirus pandemic could face up to six months in prison, according to the report.
On May 24, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced an easing of coronavirus restrictions starting June 1.