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"Mail & Guardian" lodges complaint over state spying on its journalists

(MISA/IFEX) - South Africa's weekly, "The Mail and Guardian" (M&G), has lodged a complaint with the inspector general of intelligence on the week of 25 May 2009 following sustained evidence that its journalists were spied on and harassed by state agents, the newspaper reported on 22 May.

The M&G wants the inspector general, Zolile Ngcakani, to investigate: M&G journalists and the outgoing editor of the "Zuma tapes"; M&G journalists being falsely accused of receiving the original leak of the Browse "Mole" report, using or selling drugs and one being an apartheid agent; a plan to plant drugs on one M&G journalist; and the abuse of specialised police capacity, including a police intelligence front company, to investigate the M&G on a trivial complaint.

The Intelligence Oversight Act empowers Ngcakani to investigate abuses of power by the intelligence services. In a 25-page letter to him the newspaper highlighted incidents spanning six years that undermined the freedom of the media and the public's right to know. Ngcakani's office said he would respond formally after considering the complaint, details of which include:

The Zuma Tapes

The M&G has information that journalist Sam Sole, outgoing editor Ferial Haffajee and probably other M&G journalists are featured in recordings leaked to President Jacob Zuma's attorney, Michael Hulley. They apparently involve conversations beyond those immediately relevant to any conspiracy within the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) against Zuma. Conversations between M&G journalists and Philip Dexter, now a Cope spokesperson, as well as the late "information peddler", Bheki Jacobs, are also allegedly included.

The newspaper asks Ngcakani for "full disclosure of the application for the interception directive, which resulted in M&G journalists' communications being monitored and intercepted".

NPA "leaks"

In July 2008, during the trial of former National Intelligence Agency (NIA) boss Billy Masetlha, it was revealed that police intelligence and the NIA had drawn up a report on leaks from the NPA. The report was not made public but the newspaper says it was told that it associated Sole with the leaks, including contacts he allegedly had with NPA members. The report also included what the newspaper terms, "the false and extremely damaging claim that Sole had been an apartheid security agent".

Sole has said on record that during his compulsory national service in the defence force he wrote a first-hand account of brutality in the townships, which he passed on to the End Conscription Campaign. It was published internationally and later formed part of the Truth Commission hearings on conscription. During his national service Sole attended a two-week intelligence course. He was invited to transfer to military intelligence, but declined. He completed his two years as a rifleman, eventually refusing to serve in the townships. He had no other association with the apartheid security services.

Browse "Mole"

In May 2007 Sole and his colleague, Stefaans Brümmer, received leaked copies of the controversial Browse "Mole" report, which alleged illicit foreign funding for Zuma. The report was produced by Ivor Powell, then a Scorpions investigator. The copy received was the same as one already leaked to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu).

Formal investigations later sought to blame Powell for the original leak to Sole. A July 2007 presidential task team into the Browse saga included the claim that a different version of the report had been leaked to "a journalist".

A follow-up investigation by Parliament's standing committee on intelligence blamed Powell and "members of the media". The M&G subsequently learned that the official claim was that Powell had handed it to Sole at a coffee shop in Cape Town.

"This allegation is blatantly false," says the newspaper's complaint to Ngcakani, pointing out that Sole did not meet with Powell, as alleged, and that investigators had not taken up an offer from Sole to provide an affidavit.

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