Police arrested the editor of the Cape Times, Anthony Heard, today and took him to court to be charged under South Africa's security laws for publishing an interview with the president of the outlawed African National Congress.
Heard, who faces a possible three years' imprisonment without the option of a fine for quoting a "banned" person, was told that other charges also might be brought against him. He was ordered to appear in court Dec. 9, then fingerprinted and released without bail.
Seven other journalists were detained in a segregated mixed-race township outside Cape Town under new press restrictions today and held for nearly two hours before being released without charges.
Meanwhile, Deputy Information Minister Louis Nel issued a statement today saying he had evidence of abuses by television crews that justified the restrictions that have been imposed on the media.
Heard was arrested while members of his staff were staging a street demonstration against the new press restrictions. As police escorted him out of the newspaper's building in downtown Cape Town, he was taken past a poster that read, "Hands off our editor."
Heard said later that his arrest was "probably to be expected." He expressed no regret for having published the interview with African National Congress leader Oliver Tambo, the first full statement by South Africa's major black nationalist movement to appear inside the country for nearly 25 years.
The government says that foreign journalists are sending exaggerated reports abroad that are damaging South Africa's image and that television crews have instigated acts of violence and paid black youths to riot before the cameras.
To stop this, the government issued a decree last week prohibiting all television, radio and photographic news reporting of disturbances in designated emergency areas. It also warned newspaper reporters that they could be there only if they placed themselves under the direction of the police.
In was in the midst of an international outcry over these restrictions, and while the government of President Pieter W. Botha was taking tough action to stop white South Africans from holding talks with the exiled African National Congress, that the Cape Times published a 3,600-word question-and-answer interview with Tambo Monday.
The government has made it clear that it means to enforce its silencing of the congress. Last month it seized the passports of eight Afrikaner university students who wanted to travel to Lusaka to meet leaders of the banned organization, and on Monday seven Dutch Reformed Church pastors were warned that their passports would be lifted if they did not abandon plans to meet with the congress.
The seven reporters arrested today protested that their detention was a violation of the new restrictions and of official guidelines about how they should work.
Police have told reporters that they may enter the segregated black and mixed-race, or Colored, townships, but the moment violence begins they must withdraw from the scene of the action and place themselves under the control of a designated police officer.
Today reporters went to an area where they were told there was trouble, but when they got there they found that all was quiet. They were detained nonetheless.
In an attempt to justify the new regulations, Nel issued a statement today that police video units had evidence of unethical conduct by foreign television crews.
Nel said a police informer -- apparently a South African -- working for a foreign television network had said some crews had advance knowledge of disturbances. They set up their equipment in advance and waited for the action, he said.
Responding to Nel's charges, the Foreign Correspondents Association said that it had not been shown the videotapes or other evidence mentioned by Nel and that it regarded the charges as unproved.