This week saw what civil rights NGO Right2Know (R2K) has called the first successful prosecution for illegal bugging in South Africa. It saw a former SAPS Crime Intelligence officer found guilty of spying on phone communications of two Sunday Times journalists.
“R2K welcomes the conviction of former Crime intelligence officer Bongani Cele, found guilty of spying on phone communications of Mzilikazi wa Afrika and Stephan Hofstatter in 2010.
“Cele was sentenced to three years in jail, suspended for four years. We believe this may be SA’s first successful prosecution for illegal bugging since RICA (Regulation of Interception of Communications Act) became law,” R2K national communicator Busi Mtabane said in a statement.
“Currently RICA allows law enforcement and intelligence agencies to intercept communications only with the permission of a judge. In this case Cele slipped the journalists’ phone numbers next to false names to get a warrant from the RICA judge. The Right2Know Campaign has repeatedly documented how RICA’s systems are open to abuse. Surveillance is a major threat to human rights in South Africa.
“In April last year, R2K called on the Department of Justice and Correctional Service as well as Parliament to institute urgent reforms of RICA through an open and public process.
“In a separate case, RICA faces a constitutional challenge from amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism, after one of their reporters was targeted for surveillance,” according to the statement.
Mtabane said R2K was concerned senior officers who may have ordered the bugging escaped prosecution in the Cele case and that the former Crime Intelligence officer was “only charged” with giving false information to the RCIA judge.
“There have been no consequences for the equally serious violation of using surveillance powers to target journalist investigating police corruption.
“This prosecution is welcome, but evidence suggests journalists are routinely spied on. We demand a complete overhaul of South Africa’s surveillance laws to prevent these abuses from happening again,” Mtabane said.