refugee attack police in court
All hell broke loose in the Cape Town magistrate’s court on Friday when a police detective tried to arrest refugee “leader” Jean Pierre Balous.
Balous made headlines after leading hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers during a sit-in outside the city offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in October. They demanded to be transported to another country, citing fears about xenophobic violence in SA.
Balous appeared in court on Friday in connection with eight cases of assault, five of which were assault with intention to do grievous bodily harm.
But the courtroom quickly degenerated into chaos when an investigating officer stepped in to arrest the 38-year-old Congolese national on another warrant of arrest.
The pandemonium was captured on video and showed a brawl between Balous’ supporters and court officials, including police.
In the video, the investigating officer can been seen trying to apprehend Balous who resisted while his supporters pushed and shoved police officers and court officials. The crowd then left the courtroom with Balous who, according to eyewitnesses, had the officer’s handcuffs in his hand.
Chaos broke out in the Cape Town Magistrates Court on Friday after police officers tried to execute a warrant of arrest against refugee leader JP Balous. He and some of his supporters were taken into custody after they fought with court officials to free him. Story coming soon. pic.twitter.com/ZXBgZ5HY68
— Aron Hyman (@aron_hyman) March 6, 2020
Court officials fearing for their safety got out of way and the angry crowd marched out.
Eye-witnesses told TimesLIVE that when the investigating officer approached Balous to execute the warrant, he shouted: “You piece of s*** you won’t arrest me!”
The officials, who cannot be named because they are not authorised to speak to the media, said Balous’ supporters then joined in and hurled chairs around.
Unconfirmed reports indicated that some people were injured in the scuffle, one being reportedly bitten on the nose.
Western Cape police spokesperson Capt Frederick van Wyk confirmed the incident.
“During the court appearance of one of the leaders of a group of refugees and asylum seekers at the Cape Town magistrate’s court, a group of supporters attacked the police, assisted the accused in escaping from police custody and intimidated police,” said Van Wyk.
“Public Order police assisted by Metro Police took action. They rearrested the accused in Caledon Street and arrested two other suspects for defeating the ends of justice, resisting arrest, assault and intimidation. All three will appear in court on Monday.”
The matter was postponed to March 19.
Hundreds of refugees have been on the streets since October last year, but after being removed from the UNRHC office in St Georges street they occupied the Central Methodist Mission and the surrounding area.
The Western Cape High Court granted the City of Cape Town permission to remove the refugees and to enforce its bylaws in public spaces after complaints by residents and businesses about the refugees living in the CBD.
Cape Town mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith said at a media briefing on Thursday that the city was considering going to the high court again for urgent relief to clarify the roles of other government departments in the saga, including home affairs and the police.
He claimed that after the refugees were moved from Greenmarket Square on Sunday, they went on to occupy a public park in Constitution Street “placing them in contempt of the court order” which effectively interdicts them from occupying public spaces.
“On Tuesday March 3 2020, the city’s enforcement agencies and the sheriff of the court sought to continue to enforce the court order. Initially there was resistance but the group then proceeded to the Cape Town Central Police Station, escorted by the city’s enforcement agencies, to be placed under arrest,” said Smith.
“However, the SAPS declined to accept an intended charge laid by the sheriff, disputing that the order authorises the arrest of refugees who remain in contempt. SAPS has expressed the view that the high court would have to be approached again for such relief,” he said.
The high court order gave the city and the department of home affairs seven court days to conduct a verification process for the refugees who occupied the open area outside the Central Methodist Mission in Greenmarket Square.
According to Smith 781 foreign nationals participated in the verification process and 538 of them were in SA legally.
He said 236 of them had no papers and some had fraudulent identity documents leading to a few arrests.
He said that at the start of the verification process 226 children were living on the street among the refugees. After the process only 42 were left.
Police spokesperson Brig Novela Potelwa said the situation was “complex and requires an integrated approach that will encompass various role players from all spheres of government and civil society”.
“Thinking that a single entity can wave a magic wand that would make the challenge disappear, would be underestimating the gravity of the issue.”