Reports of confrontational interactions between civilians and police officers resulting in unlawful arrests â€œhave reached record highsâ€ during the COVID-19 lockdown. Thatâ€™s according to Kirstie Haslam, partner at DSC Attorneys, who has also publicly slated Bheki Cele for his renewed efforts to stamp-out cigarettes.
Bheki Cele slammed for â€˜talking rubbishâ€™
Some estimates suggest there have been over 200 000 arrests during the 10 weeks South Africa has spent in lockdown. The unprecedented numbers have been a genuine cause for concern, and legal professionals are becoming frustrated with the â€˜nonsenseâ€™ rules ministers are trying to implement:
â€œA great case in point is the nonsense spouted by Minister of Police Bheki Cele, who is suggesting that smokers need to be able to prove where they got their cigarettes from. This is rubbish and has no legal basis â€“ only the sale of cigarettes is prohibited, and not the transport thereof.â€Â
â€œI think the best advice to give anyone who suspects they have been illegitimately arrested or detained is to secure legal representation urgently and preferably before making any admissions. This should be coupled with a desire to co-operate and avoid inflaming a tense situation.â€
Staying safe during lockdown
The governmentâ€™s lockdown laws are now under intense scrutiny, after they were dealt a hammer blow by the Pretoria High Court. A judge has declared their regulations â€˜invalidâ€™, following complaints about how they breach the fundamental human rights of South Africans. Ministers have 14 business days to redraft the rules, but itâ€™s likely that Cabinet will instead launch an appeal against the verdict.
Of course, one of the major gripes in response to the damning judgement was what it would mean for those whoâ€™ve been arrested or fined during a lockdown that is, technically speaking, â€œunconstitutionalâ€. Some have argued that there is a climate of fear amongst the public, and Haslam has implored citizens to do whatever they can to ensure that things donâ€™t turn ugly if they up in a legal jam:
â€œSometimes, they act with unreasonable force or make a wrongful arrest and, in some instances, the police knowingly abuse their powers. The most important thing is to remain calm as this helps diffuse most situations. In all cases, you should try to resolve the issue as quickly and peacefully as possible.â€
â€œSpeaking in measured tones, avoiding aggressive or threatening language, keeping your hands visible at all times and even moving into a public space to ensure the incident has witnesses are all excellent strategies to consider if you find yourself in a situation with a police officer.â€