Officials confirmed that pictures of the former president in prison were authentic, but warned that sharing them was prohibited
Pictures of former president Jacob Zuma undergoing checks inside the Estcourt prison in the early hours of Thursday morning were “stolen”, prison officials said.
The pictures were also seemingly shared with a “known broadcaster”, according to the correctional services department.
The department confirmed that a criminal case had been opened “after a camera SD card, containing images of the former president, Jacob Zuma, being admitted at a correctional centre was stolen”.
Zuma handed himself over to authorities late on Wednesday night after his contempt of court conviction a week earlier. He was booked into the Estcourt prison in the early hours of Thursday.
A few hours later, pictures of Zuma started circulating on social media and messaging platforms. They showed him in what appeared to be a medical room with a uniformed correctional services official.
The department said the official involved in the saga had been suspended. The nature of the official's involvement was not specified.
“It has come to the attention of the department of correctional services (DCS) that images were stolen from a camera of the official who had been assigned to take photos for institutional filing purposes. The SD card was removed from the camera,” said correctional services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo.
“The first aspect of the internal investigation thus far has revealed that this SD card may have clandestinely been shared with a known broadcaster. The department will be approaching the relevant institutions for further action.”
Nxumalo said the matter was “highly sensitive”, and the police and correctional services were investigating.
“We are appalled by the distribution of these images on social media and we urge people to refrain from sharing them. DCS condemns in strongest possible terms such action and will leave no stone unturned in bringing to book those behind it.”
The justice ministry warned against the use of photos of inmates without their consent.
“[Taking] pictures of offenders without their consent is prohibited. If this picture is authentic the individual who took the picture will be held accountable,” said justice spokesperson Chrispin Phiri.
On Twitter, it was claimed that justice minister Ronald Lamola was responsible for sharing the pictures in an attempt to humiliate the former president. The tweet making this claim has since been deleted.
Lamola said it was “fake news” that he had shared the images. “We vehemently condemn the use of the visuals of inmates without their consent,” he said.
The correctional services department confirmed at 1.50am on Thursday that Zuma had “been admitted to start serving a 15-month sentence at Estcourt Correctional Centre”.
“Mr Zuma will be taken through all the admission processes as per [department] regulations. Other relevant prescripts pertaining to admitting and orientating newly incarcerated people will also be followed and executed,” Nxumalo said.