Tomorrow, 13th September, marks day two of the illegal surveillance case being heard at the Pretoria Specialised Commercial Crimes Court against a former Crime Intelligence official. Officer Bongani Cele, is accused of giving false information to a judge in order to spy on the phone communication of two Sunday Times journalists, Mzilikazi wa Afrika and Stephan Hofstatter in 2010.
This is the first known case of surveillance of journalists to come to court in post democratic South Africa. It’s also a first case in which a former crime intelligence officer had been charged with illegal surveillance.
Cele faces two charges of contravening the Regulation of Communication and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act, or RICA.
R2K Gauteng activists will again be picketing outside the court from 9am in solidarity with wa Afrika and Hofstatter and to highlight our demands to end surveillance abuses in South Africa.
In April, R2K called on the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development as well as the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa to institute urgent reforms of RICA through an open and public process. Currently the Act allows law enforcement, intelligence agencies and the military to intercept communications with the permission of a judge but it’s open to abuse, and is a major threat to human rights in South Africa.
Evidence is mounting that these surveillance capabilities have been used to target investigative journalists, political activists, unionists, and interfere in South Africa’s politics and public life.
The Sunday Times matter also bears similarities to an unfolding case in the Bellville Commercial Crimes Court, where suspended Crime Intelligence official Paul Scheepers faces similar charges – of fraudulently getting warrants from a magistrate to collect the phone records of senior lawyers, police officials, and others.
Last Friday, an official in the Department of Public Service and Administration and a Mpumalanga farmer, appeared in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court on charges related to illegally importing a surveillance technology known as the “Grabber”. It is reported that the “grabber” can intercept 10,000 phone lines simultaneously within a 3km radius. It works by accessing the nearest cellphone tower, switching it off, and taking its cellular connections. The “Grabber” is not adequately regulated by RICA.
These are a clear reminder of why we need to fix RICA, South Africa’s main surveillance law. Only through urgent reforms can we prevent these abuses from happening in the first place.
A full memorandum of demands to fix RICA and end surveillance abuses has been tabled with the Ministry of Justice & Constitutional Development – see www.r2k.org.za/?p=6542
STOP SPYING ON US!
Note to editors:
The accused is a former official of the SAPS Crime Intelligence Division, who faces charges of contravening s51(1)(a)(vi) of RICA (the Regulation of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act).
The case number is 111/261/2013, at the Pretoria Specialised Commercial Crimes Court.