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PEN International and PEN South Africa urge Police Commissioner to respond urgently to calls by editors for investigations into fatal shooting of photographer and alleged assault of another journalist both by police officers

PEN condemns the fatal shooting of a 64-year-old freelance journalist and photographer, Michael Tsele, during a service delivery protest in Mothutlung in the North West two weeks ago and the alleged assault on Daily Sun journalist, Ricky Dire, by police who are also alleged to have destroyed pictures he took of them allegedly trying to provoke Chinese shopkeepers to offer them bribes. PEN South Africa supports the call by the SA National Editors Forum that both incidents be investigated by the police commissioner and the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.

City Press has reported that Tsele was allegedly shot dead “in cold blood’’ by police officers because he had a camera in his hands. He was marching with demonstrators who were protesting over the lack of water services and he was also taking pictures. The protest turned violent and police opened fire killing four demonstrators and Tsele. The newspaper reported that an eyewitness told it that Tsele did not have a weapon in his hands. “The only threat he posed was that his camera was recording evidence of what the police were doing,” City Press reported.

Tsele was a leader in the community and chairman of a burial society and a football team, Moroka Swallows. His cousin, Joel Mokhukhwane, told PEN that he was unmarried and that he and friends were investigating laying a charge against the police.

The Daily Sun’s Deputy Editor, Reggy Moalusi, claimed that Dire had been called by Chinese shop owners at a shopping centre in Rustenburg North, who alleged that the police were harassing them and asking for bribes. On Friday, January 18, he responded to a call from the store owners and took “three or four” pictures of two police officers who were talking to shop owners as well as of their vehicle licence plate. Dire said he did not see any money change hands. The conversation ended when police spotted him taking photos, he said.

Dire said the police officers insulted and assaulted him by hitting him with their fists. Then they arrested him, charging him with intimidation, crimen injuria and resisting arrest, according to Moalusi. They also claimed he was drunk. Dire denied the allegations. He is due to appear in court on February 6. The police confiscated his cellphone and when it was eventually returned to him the pictures had been deleted from the camera. They threatened to keep him in police custody until Monday, but the paper called its lawyers and he was released five hours later.

In a conversation with the Committee to Protect Journalists on January 27, Dire said that he had received two anonymous text messages on January 20 that threatened his life. When he tried to call the number from which they had been sent, the phone was switched off. He said his wife received a phone call on January 22 that said their daughter had been abducted because of the wife’s “journalist husband”. On investigation they found their daughter was safe.

The Daily Sun had laid a charge against the police and the police took a statement from Dire about the threatening messages he had received, Dire said.

PEN welcomes the news that Thandi Modise, premier of the North West Province, has urged the Independent Police Investigative Directorate to investigate the threats against Dire as well as his arrest and alleged assault by North West police.

PEN also notes the statement by SANEF that it is concerned at the growing number of allegations of police obstructing journalists while carrying out their duties and calls for a speedy outcome to the investigations.