The government today issued a tough new warning to journalists that it would shut down local newspapers and prosecute or deport foreign correspondents who violate its sweeping restrictions on press coverage during the nationwide state of emergency.
Meanwhile, affidavits released in two court cases alleged that police had abused their emergency powers in rounding up an entire church congregation outside Cape Town and in detaining two lawyers at a court where they were defending clients. It was the first time local newspapers could publish an account of the church incident at Elsies River, which has been reported overseas, other than that issued by police.
"The government expects the newspapers to toe the line -- that is, to adhere to the emergency regulations," Deputy Information Minister Louis Nel told a meeting of local editors here this morning.
Those who did not comply, he said, would face the seizure of any editions the police deemed were in violation and could face the suspension of publication until the end of the emergency.
At a later session with foreign correspondents, Nel added, "I am assuring you that we do not want to have a confrontation with the foreign news media . . . . I can only say to you confrontation can be avoided if you comply with the emergency regulations. If you do not comply, government has certain powers and will not hesitate to apply them."
Although he denied the implication, Nel's remarks appeared to indicate that the government intends to continue for an indefinite period the two-week-old state of emergency, under which several thousand antiapartheid activists have been detained.
They also appeared to be aimed not only at journalists but also at the government's political opponents, some of whom have made press statements and compiled lists of detainees in apparent violation of the emergency rules.
Under the regulations, those who make or publish "subversive" statements can be imprisoned for 10 years or fined $8,000. Journalists are also banned from reporting on police activities or from entering "unrest areas."
Nel's warning followed remarks by Helen Suzman, a veteran opposition member of Parliament, that South Africa was moving "ever closer to becoming a police state." Her statement -- and this article reporting it -- would be considered "subversive" under the emergency rules except for the fact that she has parliamentary immunity.
She was referring to the government's withholding of news concerning two bomb blasts in downtown Johannesburg yesterday. Minister of Law and Order Louis le Grange refused to answer questions in Parliament about the bombs and film crews from ABC News and the BBC had footage of the damage caused by the blast confiscated by police, even though the footage did not appear to violate the emergency regulations. They and other foreign television crews were forced to rely on footage from the state-run national television network, whose crew was allowed to film on the scene.
The government also said it was suspending its daily news briefings on unrest, citing "the decline in incidents since the declaration of the state of emergency." Attendance at the briefings had withered in recent days since officials limited the type of questions they would answer.
The courtroom affidavits on alleged police misconduct are also privileged material under South African law. In one set of them, two lawyers alleged they were detained by police June 19 at a court when they sought access from a prosecutor to clients who had been detained.
Another affidavit by a church rector described the roundup on Sunday, June 15, of the entire congregation of St. Nicholas's Church in Elsies River. The rector said that nearly 200 people were held after police armed with whips and rifles broke up a peaceful service commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Soweto uprising. He said the police action was unprovoked.
Meanwhile police said two more blacks were killed by other blacks in overnight violence, bringing to 61 the number of deaths since the emergency was imposed. A black man was stabbed to death by a mob in Soweto while another man's burned body was found in a rural part of the Transvaal, police said.