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Statement on the arrest of Zimbabwean clergyman Pastor Immanuel Hlabangana
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition
February 03, 2007

Lawyers for arrested Zimbabwean clergyman Pastor Immanuel Hlabangana will today launch an urgent appeal to the High Court for his immediate release.

Hlabangana had been arrested by police on the night of Friday 26/1/2007 in Edenvale following an incident in which he and his friend Duduzile Ndlovu were stopped and searched by police. When police arrested Ndlovu because she said she did not have her passport on her, Hlabangana followed to the police station where he questioned the reasons for her arrest. He was told that he "thought he was too clever" and he himself was promptly thrown into police cells where he spent two nights until he was released on bail on Sunday 28 January.

Hlabangana’s ordeal at the hands of the South African justice system took on nightmarish proportions on Monday, 29 January when Magistrate Agenberg of the Edenvale Magistrate’s court suggested to the prosecutor that in addition to the charge of "interfering with police duties", Hlabangana should also be charged with "aiding and abetting a criminal". Arguing that this was a serious charge, the magistrate revoked the bail that had been granted on Sunday 28th January by the inspector on duty on that day. Magistrate Agenberg argued that the police did not have jurisdiction to grant after hours bail and he sent Hlabangana back into custody.

On Hlabangana’s second appearance in court on Tuesday, 30 January, the same magistrate insisted on verification of Hlabangana’s personal particulars. Magistrate Agenberg was then provided with verification from the Department of Home Affairs that Hlabangana’s passport and visa were genuine as well as an affidavit from Hlabangana’s sister that he was living in her house during his stay in South Africa. Magistrate Agenberg then ruled that Hlabangana should remain in custody until 5 February while police verified his physical address.

Hlabangana’s lawyer, Thabang Machacha, requested the magistrate to recuse himself on the grounds that he had showed a high degree of bias against the accused by revoking bail, improperly entertaining charges that were not in the charge sheet and insisting that the state verify the personal particulars of the accused when the state is not opposed to bail being fixed.  "In a nutshell the state is happy with our client personal particulars as were the police when they released him on bail that Sunday. The magistrate however is not convinced that the senior public prosecutor and the SAPS have done their work properly" Machacha commented.   

The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, the organisation that had engaged Hlabangana as a short-term consultant, has described the arrest as ‘bizarre’: "In the context of high crime and overcrowded prisons, it is a tragedy that an innocent person should be kept in custody at the expense of the state for five whole days simply to give police time to verify a physical address, something that can be done within half a day."

If the High Court application is successful, Hlabangana is likely to be released today. If not, he will spend another weekend in a South African prison cell among scores of awaiting trial prisoners in hopelessly overcrowded conditions.

Lawyers for Human Rights in South Africa has condemned the arrest of Pastor Hlabangana. In a statement released on 28 January, the organisation called on the South African Police Service to "respect the rights of foreign nationals including refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa. Further, we call on the Department of Home Affairs to give proper direction and assistance to police when dealing with foreign nationals. Lastly we urge the senior management of SAPS to investigate and ensure that those officers abusing their authority face disciplinary action."

Visit the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition fact sheet

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