The alleged manhandling of Media24 journalist Jan Gerber outside Parliament on Wednesday was strongly condemned by the Cape Town Press Club and the DA.
“We call on the Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete to immediately launch a probe into this incident,” the Club said in a statement.
The incident, during which officers in white shirts allegedly forced Gerber to the ground and forced him to delete photographs, came barely a month after MPs were also manhandled and forcibly ejected from the National Assembly during the state-of-the-nation address.
“Thuggery cannot be allowed at Parliament,” the Club said.
Earlier, the SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) said the people in white shirts identified themselves as members of the police VIP protection services.
“Gerber was taking pictures of the unidentified police officers and also of public order policing vans,” Sanef said in a statement.
This was around two hours before President Jacob Zuma was due to answer parliamentary questions at 3pm.
“The five officers dragged him to the ground opposite the SAPS office in Plein Street and forced him to delete his photographs.”
The journalist sustained scratches and bruises.
“Sanef is perturbed by these unlawful actions which are in contravention of police standing orders prohibiting cops from deleting pictures.
“These unlawful actions are also an assault on freedom of expression as enshrined in the Constitution,” Sanef said.
Democratic Alliance Chief Whip John Steenhuisen said in a statement that the alleged manhandling of the journalist was a serious infringement of Constitutionally enshrined media freedoms. He said he would raise the matter at the next Parliament Oversight Authority (POA) meeting.
“Of late, whenever President Zuma is on the parliamentary precinct there is a contingent of armed and unidentified hoodlums harassing Members of Parliament and the media,” Steenhuisen said.
“These security measures are beyond excessive and have often been used to suppress the media and opposition.”
Sanef said it would confront police commissioner Riah Phiyega’s office about the incident.
“This is the latest incident of intimidation despite promises by senior cops and Riah Phiyega, that such illegal behaviour would be stopped.”
Phiyega’s spokesman said he would respond to questions later.
During Zuma’s state-of-the-nation address on February 12, Economic Freedom Fighters MPs were removed from the National Assembly Chamber, also by officers in white shirts. The DA walked out of the proceedings in protest.
Sanef said it encouraged Gerber to lay a criminal charge against the police officers and consider instituting civil action. Media24 parliamentary editor Janet Heard said the “heavy-handed action” Gerber was subjected to raised questions about Parliament’s security and who would be held accountable.
“We have seen an increasing security presence at Parliament lately, and a lot more secrecy.
“It is very worrying that a parliamentary journalist can get bullied and roughed up by shady security officers in white shirts, all because he was taking photographs in a public street.”