In a joint statement to The Zimbabwean released on Monday, the Legal Resource Centre and AIDS Law Project demanded the immediate release of the mainly Zimbabwe nationals. The comments came days after a joint raid was conducted by the South African Police Services and Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department when officers arrested 39 people at the church. These included at least two patients who were queuing for treatment at the Medecins Sans Frontieres Clinic. They were accused of loitering.
Bishop Paul Verryn told ***The Zimbabwean that some of the unaccompanied children escaped arrest at the church and were being housed in Soweto until a High Court ruling was implemented. A curator would then take responsibility for them. The South Gauteng High Court ruled early this month that the unaccompanied children, mainly Zimbabweans, be put in the custody of Dr Ann Skelton of the Legal Resources Centre. “We cant risk our lives by staying at the church premises yet the Department of Social Development is threatening to take us away to the so-called safe houses. We would rather stay in Soweto where we are free to go to school, well looked after and treated with dignity,” said one unaccompanied child called Shingi.
Members of local humanitarian organisations condemned the arrests of innocent men and women. Genuine crime prevention is necessary and to be lauded. But we condemn the latest raid and the unlawful arrests of people whose only crime is to be poor and homeless. We demand their immediate release and a public commitment from the government that such misuse of the loitering by-laws to clean up our streets for the World Cup cease immediately, Legal Resource Centre and AIDS Law Project said.
These raids create a pattern of harassment of the homeless, predominantly refugees, from the CMC. In 2009 this prompted the CMC and human rights organisations to launch a High Court application to interdict further loitering arrests at the CMC and to strike down the loitering by-law as unconstitutional. The High Court application is pending. The latest arrests may require that the application be set down in court on an urgent basis. Dr Andreas Alga, an MSF medical doctor said: Police action like this victimises and intimidates vulnerable people queuing outside a medical facility and threatens to drive them away. It effectively punishes health-seeking behaviour of those in great need; people who struggle to access medical care elsewhere in the city.
While SAPS told the media that the arrests are part of crime prevention, according to eye-witnesses the arrests resulted from an arbitrary swoop of the area with people being randomly rounded-up. The arrests come in the wake of previous police raids at the Church. In January 2008, over 1 000 people were arrested during a raid inside the Church. All were eventually released without charge. In July 2009, a late night raid was conducted in which over 350 people sleeping outside the Church were arrested for loitering. Again, they were released without charge. The largely-xenophobic South African police has been previously condemned for their treatment of foreign nationals.Post published in: Politics