People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (PAGAD), a Muslim organization based in Cape Town in South Africa, where crime and drugs are a growing threat to everyone, has had a particularly bad press in South Africa.
Far from the authorities appreciating the group’s considerable efforts against organized criminals and drug dealers - whom the government has conspicuously failed to defeat - PAGAD has long been subjected propaganda and other attacks. The South African media, particularly the newspapers, have taken particular pleasure in publishing any and every possible allegation against PAGAD, usually without any evidence, let alone proof.
Last year, one Cape Town family - Waleed Suleiman, his wife and sister - was taken off the plane as they were on their way to perform Umrah in Saudi Arabia. Waleed, a member of PAGAD, was accused of being involved in the bombing of Planet Hollywood restaurant in Cape Town on August 26, 1998. He was publicly humiliated before being released two days later because he was totally innocent.
What Muslims did not suspect, however, was that PAGAD was being deliberately discredited and smeared by the police and government intelligence agencies. That emerged last month, when a former policeman and National Intelligence Agency (NIA) agent, George Keiser, confessed to his role in this campaign. His confessions led to the discovery of an arms cache which, he said, had been used to undermine PAGAD. For months, the media had been full of sensational allegations against the group. Keiser’s revelations by contrast, have largely been met by a deathly silence.
Dr Firoz Osman, Secretary of the Media Review Network (MRN), in a press release issued on August 18, has demanded that the media stop branding groups as ‘terrorist’ without evidence. The MRN had warned about an orchestrated campaign of disinformation against Islamic groups. “The consequences of splashing speculative, unsubstantiated and sensational claims against Muslims has led to [the] harassment, intimidation, imprisonment and criminalisation of the Muslim community,” said Dr Osman.
This attitude is encouraged by the sort of sensational and hysterical reporting about which the MNR has consistently complained. The MRN has called upon the government and the Ministry of Safety and Security to release the other members of PAGAD immediately, to investigate the conduct of the police and National Intelligence Agency, and to expose the role that foreign intelligence groups, such as the CIA and Mossad, may have had.
Although the government is not likely to accede to these legitimate demands, Muslims need to intensify their campaign to expose the illegal activities of the police and the intelligence agencies, as well as correcting the misinformation about them that has been spread by the media. One possible way forward being considered is a class-action suit against the media for tarnishing the image of Muslims, despite their being one of the most law-abiding communities in the country.
Muslimedia: September 16-30, 1999