Free speech at issue in top cop Jeremy Vearey's disciplinary case - experts
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Cape Town - As the fate of top cop Major-General Jeremy Vearey hangs in the balance over a string of Facebook posts, civil society has called the saga problematic as it raises issues of oppression and attacks on free speech.
Vearey was found on May 27 to have brought the name of the police into disrepute for eight Facebook posts between December 7, 2020 and February 25, 2021, which in some cases featured pictures of the national commissioner Khehla Sitole, and links to stories and documents.
In one such example on December 7, 2020, he posted a picture of the police national commissioner with a message that read “Good morning and how is the mind today? Lighting up the shadows.” A linked media report from the daily maverick.co.za "Deep Dive: Sitole vs Jacobs”.
Vearey was charged under the rule National Instruction 5 of 2017, which states “employees of the SAPS may not engage in online publication or communication on social media, which could bring the service (SAPS) into disrepute”.
The sanction proposed was dismissal and the final decision now rests with Sitole.
Policing expert at the African Centre for Security and Intelligence Praxis, Eldred de Klerk, said: “One of the things that for me is problematic is the issue of process and whether it is fair on anybody where you consider questions of free speech that are not actually defamatory.
“If we took a snap survey across the police, who else shares his views on where the police is at and would people feel free to speak up because this sends the signal you dare not question, or express any unhappiness?
“What we’ve done with the police is taken a number of steps backwards from the service we wanted. We want professionals engaged in robust discussions even if they disagree, yet understand what they are working towards, which is in the public interest. Now is the time to have a critical look at the state of policing in South Africa,” De Klerk said.
Activist Colin Arendse said former uMkhonto we Sizwe members were being targeted within SAPS.
“For several years now, those who served under the previous regime have been targeting our former MK cadres who are now generals in the police service, but they have lost each time.
“I find it bizarre in the extreme that police management at head office have all the time and resources to spend on trivial issues like Facebook posts while our people on the Cape Flats are dodging bullets and rapists every day. Why not use the same resources for an expeditious hearing into the activities of the rogue crime intel unit that Colonel Charl Kinnear exposed before he was so brutally assassinated?
“Even if there is a predetermined adverse finding against General Vearey that he should be fired, he will more than likely appeal this as another sober judge may come to a different conclusion,” activist Colin Arendse said.
Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union spokesperson Richard Mamabolo said they were not at liberty to comment yet.
Police have also yet to comment. National police spokesperson Vishnu Naidoo said: “SAPS does not provide details of internal processes in the public domain. We may consider issuing a statement depending on the outcome of disciplinary matters.”
Vearey did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.