The Groenpunt Correctional Centre in the Free State is seen in this file picture. Photo: Itumeleng English

Johannesburg - Journalists carrying out their professional duties should be protected from interference, Sanef said on Friday.

The SA National Editors' Forum was responding to an incident on January 16 (Wednesday), when journalists on an official visit to Groenpunt Prison were detained after taking pictures of prison warders beating a prisoner, who later died.

“The journalists said the official erased not only the pictures of the prisoner being beaten up, but other pictures which had nothing to do with the Groenpunt visit,” the forum said in a statement.

“Sanef believes that the deletion of photographs was an attempt to destroy evidence and merits charges of defeating the ends of justice against those responsible.”

The forum said the tour of the prison was arranged by the parliamentary portfolio committee on correctional service, after prisoners were involved in violent protests a week earlier.

“Sanef is astonished that journalists... who were invited to tour the facility by the parliamentary committee were surrounded by armed warders who ordered them out of their cars,” it said.

“The journalists were held for an hour and described their treatment as 'humiliating and terrifying'. They said they had 'co-operated under duress'.”

The correctional services officials took away the journalists' cameras, memory cards, and cellphones, and deleted their photographs.

On Friday, correctional services said a Groenpunt inmate who was assaulted by warders at the prison had died.

Free State deputy regional commissioner Grace Molatedi said: “I can confirm that the inmate had died, but I can't confirm that he died as a result of the attack,” she said.

“The police have been instructed to conduct a post-mortem because the cause of death is not known. He died immediately after the attack.”

Emergency personnel, police officers, and prison officials intervened.

“The life of (a) prison official was at stake. It is policy for other officials to intervene and use any means necessary to restrain the inmates in a situation like that.”

Three prisoners were involved in the attack on the official and a fourth apparently provided the weapons used in the attack. Investigations were continuing.

Sanef said the journalists and photographers were at the prison on an officially sanctioned assignment and should have been protected from interference.

“Indeed, the committee was seriously at fault for leaving the scene when the journalists were detained, instead of interceding and protecting them,” Sanef said.

“Having been invited by the committee, the journalists should have been accorded the same immunity from interference as the parliamentarians were entitled to.”

Sanef said it would request parliament to investigate the incident and to adopt mechanisms to ensure the protection of journalists when they were covering work by members of parliament. - Sapa