S. Africa accused of spying on civil society groups

Civil society groups and political activists in South Africa have accused the government of spying on their operations in contravention of the law

S. Africa accused of spying on civil society groups

World Bulletin / News Desk 

South African intelligence agencies have been accused of illegally spying on civil society groups and community leaders in the country.

"Intelligence officials are reportedly calling people working for civil society groups and asking them for information about the groups in exchange for money," Murray Hunter, a spokesperson for the Right2know campaign, told.

He said that, although intelligence agencies had a legitimate role to play, they also at times viewed certain activists as threats to the state.

"Our report primarily looks at physical surveillance, for example, where officials call and ask activists when they will be attending their meetings," he said.

Hunter claimed further that some intelligence officials had been posing as community members in order to attend meetings of civil society groups.

The campaign recently released a report entitled "Big Brother Exposed," which highlights alleged state paranoia and states that individuals thought to be state intelligence officials had been spying on civil society groups, academics and community leaders.

According to the report, the country's shack-dwellers association had recently suffered the worst bout of repression since its establishment.

"There are few [other] organizations in South Africa, if any, with more vivid experiences of harassment – by local political structures, police, and, it would seem, by intelligence structures," the report says in reference to the shack dwellers association.

The report asserts that the shack dwellers' recent experiences of repression had included police brutality during protests, veiled public threats by elected officials, and even anonymous death threats.

Hunter hopes the report will equip activists with the knowledge they need to fight back.

Observers believe police "brutality" at protests is aimed at deterring activists from campaigning for better service delivery in their communities.

"The surveillance creates political fear and compromises our work, movements and safety," S'bu Zikode, president of South Africa's shack-dwellers association – known locally as Abahlali baseMjondolo – told.

He said that, whenever he returns from a trip abroad, he receives strange telephone calls from private numbers asking him what he told people outside the country.

Asked if he had reported the incidents to the authorities, Zikonde laughs and asks, "Who will I report to when the calls come from the police?"

He recalled one day when he dialed the number of a friend and was instead transferred to a police station.

"I heard police radio calls and people conversing in the background," Zikonde said.

Sometimes, he added, officers introduce themselves to him when they answer diverted calls or when they call him directly.

South Africa's shack-dwellers association is well known for its campaigns against evictions and public housing.

It also campaigns for the improvement of living conditions for millions of South Africa's underprivileged.

The Right2know campaign says the purpose of its report is to tell stories from the perspective of activists and show the damage that can result when the intelligence apparatus intrudes in democratic spaces.

Asked what steps they had taken to stop the spying, Hunter said: "First, we have gone public about it by publishing the report."

"The second step will be to take our information to the authorities to investigate," he told.

South Africa's Ministry of State Security, for its part, has asked campaigners to take their case to the relevant authorities.

"With respect to the allegations contained in the report, we wish to reiterate that there is a clear recourse that our legislation provides for, in respect to concerns and complaints involving the country's intelligence services," ministry spokesman Brian Dube said in a statement.

"To this end, we advise Right2know to approach the office of the inspector-general and present their complaints and evidence," he added.

Dube added that the minister of state security planned to meet with a range of stakeholders to explain his ministry's responsibilities.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 04 Mayıs 2015, 15:10
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