Widow en­dures vile jail con­di­tions after un­law­ful ar­rest

The Witness - - NEWS -

DUR­BAN — It ap­pears South Africans have be­come “re­signed” to the ap­palling con­di­tions of de­ten­tion in po­lice cells.

“It has be­come nor­mal ... but it should be el­e­vated as a mat­ter of a con­sti­tu­tional right, for which reme­dies have to be found,” Dur­ban High Court Judge Dhaya Pillay said in a re­cent judg­ment.

The judge ruled that the of­fice of the Min­is­ter of Po­lice is li­able to com­pen­sate a 42­year­old for her un­law­ful ar­rest, de­ten­tion and “in­tol­er­a­ble treat­ment” at the hands of the po­lice at two Dur­ban po­lice sta­tions.

She also found that the re­cent­ly­wid­owed mother — ar­rested on sus­pi­cion of be­ing in­volved in the mur­der of an in­sur­ance bro­ker — had been sex­u­ally ha­rassed by one of the po­lice of­fi­cers.

Ev­i­dence at the civil trial was that the woman had been ar­rested at her place of work in Au­gust 2011, and then taken by the po­lice to ar­rest her brother.

On the drive there, one of the of­fi­cers sat next to her, put his hands on her knees and “passed sex­ual in­nu­en­dos”.

She was de­tained at the Phoenix po­lice sta­tion — where she was again sex­u­ally ha­rassed — and at the Ton­gaat po­ lice sta­tion, be­fore be­ing re­leased with­out charge two days later. Pillay said that there had been in­suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to ar­rest the woman in the first place.

“She had not been in­ter­viewed be­fore be­ing ar­rested and, in­stead of in­ter­view­ing her after­wards, she was in­ter­ro­gated. There was no at­tempt to ver­ify any in­for­ma­tion she gave, and the only in­fer­ence is that the pur­pose of her ar­rest and de­ten­tion was to in­tim­i­date and ha­rass her.”

Turn­ing to the con­di­tions un­der which she was kept, the judge said it was un­for­tu­nate that nei­ther side had in­vited the court to in­spect the cells.

“The undis­puted ev­i­dence of the plain­tiff was she started men­stru­at­ing

“The qual­ity of our de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties should be a mat­ter of pub­lic in­ter­est. They are a pro­jec­tion of what we are as a na­tion and how we will de­liver on our con­sti­tu­tional and in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights obli­ga­tions.”

after she was sex­u­ally ha­rassed in the toi­let. The po­lice re­fused to pro­vide her with a change of clothes.

“At Phoenix, she said she was forced to share a cell, a mat­tress and a blan­ket with two women.

“She slept next to a filthy toi­let, breath­ing in the stench of rot­ting food and fae­ces which lit­tered the cell. In her words, it was ‘in­hu­mane’.

“At Ton­gaat, she was de­tained alone in a small cell, in which there was noth­ing more than a con­crete block and a filthy toi­let. She asked for toi­let pa­per, but re­ceived none. Her pants were soiled.”

Pillay said she had searched for cases in which in­hu­mane con­di­tions of de­ten­tion were found to be cruel and un­usual pun­ish­ment.

How­ever, “sur­pris­ingly”, she could not find a South African case, “con­sid­er­ing there are many re­ported cases of tor­ture in de­ten­tion” and the Con­sti­tu­tion and Bill of Rights out­lawed cruel and in­hu­mane treat­ment.

One ex­pla­na­tion, she said, could be a poor knowl­edge of such rights.

“The qual­ity of our de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties should be a mat­ter of pub­lic in­ter­est. They are a pro­jec­tion of what we are as a na­tion and how we will de­liver on our con­sti­tu­tional and in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights obli­ga­tions.

“In this in­stance, the plain­tiff was not a con­vict and should not have been pun­ished. But the con­di­tions of her de­ten­tion were tan­ta­mount to this. Her com­plaint is pitched at the most ba­sic lev­els of hy­giene, ad­e­quacy of beds, blan­kets and toi­let pa­per.”

Pillay said that these con­di­tions — the sex­ual ha­rass­ment and the fail­ure to al­low her ac­cess to her fam­ily — had im­pinged on her hu­man dig­nity, amounted to cruel and un­usual treat­ment, and de­nial of her rights as a de­tainee.

— News24.

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