Business Day: Immigrants Treated Badly – Lawyers

Posted to the web on: 04 February 2008
Immigrants badly treated — lawyers
Ernest Mabuza

LAWYERS for the immigrants arrested in a raid on the Johannesburg Central Methodist Church last Wednesday night have expressed serious concern about how their clients were treated.

The Legal Resources Centre said at the weekend that there were apparently delays in providing medical and legal assistance to the more than 300 people detained, who appeared to have been physically mistreated, and were allegedly asked for bribes by police.

Centre director Janet Love said legal representatives were told the church offered shelter and sustenance nightly to homeless people, including many immigrants and asylum seekers.

The centre was asked to consult those arrested and, if they requested, seek their release on bail. “Extensive delays were experienced in obtaining access to the police cells in order to consult the detainees.”

Love said various junior police officers indicated that a number of the detainees might be transferred directly to the Lindela repatriation centre without appearing in court.

She said that at the court the centre’s lawyers found a clerk preparing 19 warrants for detention , indicating no bail had been granted, despite there having been no bail application.

When asked about this, the clerk said it was “an error” and prepared new forms.

Love said that when the defence team requested permission to consult the accused, the magistrate first denied this because she said there was not enough time, and then again denied it because she said there was no interpreter.

The magistrate finally allowed a “five-minute” adjournment to allow the defence to consult the accused The accused waived their right to an interpreter, and indicated that they wanted to apply for bail.

According to Love, the prosecutor said she opposed bail but could not proceed with a bail hearing because the investigating officer was not there.

Love said the magistrate spoke to the accused in an “aggressive manner”, sometimes repeatedly asking whether an accused spoke English or Shona with “increasing aggression and loudness”.

A postponement of the matter until today was granted, despite fierce opposition by the defence, because one accused was due to have an operation today.

Love said the postponement put the liberty of the accused at stake, and that it had been indicated to the counsel in chambers that the matter should be postponed because “the officers of the court wished to go home to be with their families”.

The South African Human Rights Commission and the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference have expressed concern about these allegations of human rights violations .

The commission said that while it acknowledged police had a constitutional duty to provide safety and security , police members were bound by the same constitution to treat people, regardless of their country of origin, both with dignity and humanely. With Sapa