The short answer
It is entirely legal to film police arresting – or assaulting – someone.
The whole question
I would like to know if a person can be detained for filming police officers while they are assaulting someone. My friend was detained by police yesterday for filming officers while they were trying to arrest someone. They were also assaulting the arrestee. They are pressing charges of obstructing justice against my friend.
The long answer
Thank you for your email asking if a person can be detained for filming police officers in the act of assaulting someone.
It is entirely legal to film police arresting – or assaulting – someone. Obviously the police don’t like being filmed because it can be used as evidence of police misbehaviour, but it is not in any way against the law to film them at work.
In April 2018, the Safety and Security Executive Director in Cape Town, Richard Bosman, sent a memo to the metro police officers explaining that it was not illegal for members of the public to film them doing their work, and that police officers did not have the right to demand that members of the public delete photos or videos from their phones. The only exception to this was if this filming interfered with the ability of the police to do their jobs. In that case they would have to issue a warning, and if the warning was disregarded they could proceed to arrest the person.
If someone is arrested for “obstructing justice”, the police will have to prove to the court that the person was stopping them performing their legal duties.
It is important that people lay a complaint against the police if they have been detained under false pretences. In the first place they can lay a complaint against the police officer with the station commander at the police station.
If they are not satisfied with the way the complaint is dealt with by the station commander, they can contact the Police Ombudsman’s office. In the Western Cape, this office can be contacted on 021 483 0669.
You can also contact Lawyers for Human Rights for advice:
In Cape Town: 021 424 856
In Johannesburg: 011 339 1960
In Durban 031 301 0531
Answered on March 15, 2019, 9:28 a.m.