News24 reporter Azarrah Karrim says she was mocked as she laid a charge against police officers who shot rubber bullets at her while she was covering the kick-off to the nationwide coronavirus lockdown on Friday.
As she was trying to make a statement at the Yeoville police station on Saturday, officers joked among themselves. After relating what happened, one of them allegedly told Karrim: “They missed you? What a waste!”
News24 earlier reported how Karrim was caught in the crossfire when police fired rubber bullets to disperse pockets of people loitering in the streets of Yeoville, Johannesburg, on day one of the lockdown.
It is unclear whether those who came under fire were on essential business as stipulated in the lockdown regulations.
Karrim was on the scene, filming the incident in a nearby street, when pedestrians suddenly started running to safety after being fired on by the police.
As an officer stood at the entrance of a house aiming his gun inside a property, he noticed Karrim recording and ran towards her, while calling over his colleagues.
In Karrim’s video, multiple shots can be heard being fired at her, despite her shouting “I’m media!” to police.
One shot was fired at close range, completely missing her. She was not hurt in the incident.
After screaming frantically that she was part of the media, the officers lowered their guns, asking: “Why didn’t you tell us this?”
Karrim was then asked to leave the area.
“I didn’t get their names or see their faces because they were wearing protective gear,” she said.
On Saturday, Karrim returned to Yeoville with her boyfriend to make a statement about the incident, but she was allegedly treated with condescension and passive-aggressive behaviour by the officers on duty.
“It was quite stressful. I felt like I really had to fight to get that charge laid.”
Karrim said that after she told the officer on duty what had happened, she was made to wait while he consulted his superior officers, and subsequently “given a lecture” about how she should have handled the situation differently.
“He suggested that he, too, would have shot at me. He said that people were being unruly and the police were having a hard time implementing the lockdown.”
He told Karrim to take extra measures to indicate that she was a member of the media.
“While he was writing my statement, we were constantly interrupted by other officers asking what my complaint was about.
“He kept implying that, because I wasn’t injured in the shooting, I shouldn’t lay a charge. One of the captains – I didn’t get his name – said, ‘Oh, they missed you? What a waste!'”
The other officers present allegedly laughed at this remark.
As someone who was familiar with court papers and affidavits, Karrim said she asked to edit her statement, as key details had been left out, but this was not done.
With the help of Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) spokesperson Sontaga Seisa, Karrim was put in touch with an IPID investigator, who has since requested the docket from the Yeoville police.
Seisa said the matter was being investigated.
“The case has been opened by the police. If she was assaulted by the police or metro police in the course of performing their duties, it is IPID’s mandate to investigate.”
Police spokesperson Brigadier Vish Naidoo, in a written response to Karrim, said the police have been experiencing noncompliance to the lockdown regulations in a few areas around the country.
“The incident in Yeoville depicted in your query was one of those areas. It is rather unfortunate that you did not openly display you media identification and in all fairness, our police officers could not have possibly known that you are a journalist before you identified yourself,” Naidoo said.
“Having said that, we are satisfied that our members acted in accordance with the crowd management principles. We continue to appeal to the nation to abide by the lockdown regulations. In order to protect our people, we have waged a war against the Covid-19 virus.
“Therefore, the regulations are not intended to punish anyone but rather to protect our people. We are expecting unwavering unity by everyone to stop the spread of the virus and ultimately combat it. Noncompliance of the regulations will not be tolerated.”
Karrim has since laid a complaint against the station officers via the SAPS’ online portal.
On Thursday, Naidoo said Karrim could send him a complaint about the alleged incident, which he would then allocate to the provincial police commissioner for investigation.
The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) has written a formal complaint to the police about the shooting incident.
Members of the media are considered part of essential services and are allowed to be out in the streets during the lockdown.