Date: March 8, 2024 Type: Country:

South Africa: Police’s heavy handedness and intimidation during protest intolerable

The disproportionate response and intimidation tactics used by SA Police Service’s (SAPS) public order police (POP) during a peaceful protest outside Standard Bank headquarters in Johannesburg on Friday is intolerable, Amnesty International South Africa said.

Amnesty International South Africa attended a protest as human right observers outside the bank. The protest was held by environmental movement, Extinction Rebellion Gauteng. The group requested Amnesty International South Africa observe the protest following a disproportionate response by the police when demonstrating outside Standard Bank in the past. Extinction Rebellion has been protesting against what it calls Standard Bank’s “funding of climate crimes in Africa” and wants the bank to not fund new coal projects.

The group of seven Extinction Rebellion activists attempted to stage a sit-in in front of one of the parking entrances to Standard Bank, situated on a public road. However, before they could sit, SAPS members started being heavy handed.

Amnesty International South Africa staff observed how officers from POP pushed, shoved, and dragged activists across the ground. Some police officers were also not wearing their name badges, which must be visible at all times during a protest as stated by SAPS’s policy and guidelines for policing of public protests. One of the Extinction Rebellion activists was also detained without provocation and put into the back of a Johannesburg Metro police van for the entire demonstration. He was eventually taken to the Rosebank police station. The activist has since been charged with public violence and inciting violence. He will appear in court on Monday.

Amnesty International South Africa captured video footage of what transpired.

“It is unacceptable that the SAPS resorted to heavy handedness and threats to disperse peaceful protestors. The police must remember that people have the right to peaceful assembly and peaceful protest,” Amnesty International South Africa Executive Director Shenilla Mohamed said.

“It is shocking that in a year when South Africa is celebrating 30 years since the end of apartheid, that the police continue to use excessive force and intimidation when dealing with protestors,” she said.

A member of the POP also attempted to stop Amnesty International South Africa’s media and communications officer from filming them, despite Standing Order 156, which is an instruction to SAPS, which allows media workers, when in a public space, to photograph anything in plain view, including SAPS members. This right also extends to citizen journalists and bystanders. The police officer grabbed the phone out of her hand, threw it into the road, and threatened to pepper spray her. 

“Police had no legal basis to stop observers from photographing and filming police activities in this instance,” Shenilla Mohamed said.

“In South Africa, the right to peaceful protest, which is enshrined in the Constitution, is repeatedly being threatened by the actions of the police, and they must be held accountable for their excessive use of force.”

“We call on the police to exercise restraint during peaceful protests and for SAPS leadership to ensure that all police officers are properly trained in public order policing, to ensure that everyone’s rights to peaceful protest and assembly is upheld,” Shenilla Mohamed said.


Extinction Rebellion’s philosophy is nonviolent civil disobedience.

Civil disobedience has been historically used as a tactic to raise awareness, to increase pressure, and to promote change. Activists around the world have used different methods of civil disobedience through direct and non-violent means, often including intentional violations of law. International human rights standards recognise that, regardless of the infringement of a country’s law, acts of civil disobedience may constitute a form of assembly and, when carried out in a non-violent manner, fall under the scope of the rights to freedom of conscience, expression and peaceful assembly.

For more information or to request an interview, please contact:

Genevieve Quintal, Media and Communications Officer, Amnesty International South Africa: +27 (0) 64 890 9224;  

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Amnesty International South Africa office, 97 Oxford Road, Saxonwold, Johannesburg, 2196