Dr Karabus case: SA government talks tough, finally

By Khadija Patel 23 April 2013

The Department of International Relations and Co-Operation hurriedly arranged a press conference on Monday to communicate a strong message to their counterparts in the United Arab Emirates: Professor Karabus must be allowed to return home this week. By KHADIJA PATEL.

On Tuesday, Professor Cyril Karabus is back in court in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, where his acquittal on charges of murder will be appealed in the Criminal Court. It will be the professor’s second appearance in the appeal process after he was cleared of charges relating to the death of Yemeni girl in his care. Already the appeal has been postponed once, stoking fears that the appeals process may see Karabus stranded in the UAE for some time yet.

Karabus was remanded in custody while in transit in Dubai last August. Unbeknownst to him, he had been tried in absentia for the murder of the girl, a patient of his during a short stint as a locum at an Emirati hospital. Since then, Karabus’ case has thrust South African diplomacy under intense pressure. And while the withdrawal of charges against Karabus last month was hailed as a victory for the collective effort of South African government, business and the medical fraternity, the appeal lodged against that decision has left Karabus once more at the whim of the Emirati judiciary.

The South African government has made an impassioned plea to Emirati authorities to prevent another postponement of the appeal.

“We are hopeful that tomorrow’s hearing will not culminate in a further postponement,” Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-Operation Marius Fransman said at the press conference on Monday. “It is time for Prof Karabus to be re-united with his family in South Africa after a prolonged trial.”

Fransman, who has been at the forefront of the South African government’s efforts to free Karabus since his detention in the UAE last August, warned that a favourable outcome for Karabus was not a foregone conclusion.

“It is not as if it is just an automatic process [on Tuesday],” he said.

“There is hope out there but there is no finality.”

While Fransman acknowledged the right of the Emirati state and the family of the deceased to appeal the criminal court’s decision to withdraw the charges against him, he urged them to rescind the appeal.

“We call on [the Emirati authorities] to withdraw the appeal,” he said.

Fransman urged the authorities to review the appeal in light of the evidence that had been presented to the court in his retrial.

“It is a passionate plea based on the fact that the court itself has instructed the medical review committee to be constituted and that committee has cleared the professor,” he said. “In March there was a final decision [to withdraw the charges against Karabus].”

Fransman said the South African government was concerned that Karabus, who is an emeritus professor at the University of Cape Town and a specialist paediatric oncologist, may still be prevented from returning home.

“The concern of the South African government is that the appeal could take up to a year,” he said.

“That is the dilemma that we sat with over the last two weeks.”

“We then requested again through formal communication, from myself to my counterpart, that we must take into account the humanitarian realities of the case. Also, the age of the professor [is a concern].

“And our concerns in terms of his health that the appeal process should in fact in the context of the independence of the judiciary be dealt with, but not in the context of seeing postponement after postponement again.”

Fransman acknowledged as well that the South African government was treading a fine line between respect for the judicial processes of the UAE and its desire to see the professor return home.

“And that’s the tricky part,” Fransman acknowledged. “We do respect the country’s laws and the independence of their processes as well,” he said.

Still, he said the South African government was “hopeful” that there would not be another postponement of the appeal on Tuesday.

While Fransman refused to be drawn on what actions the South African government would take if there were indeed a postponement of the appeal on Tuesday, he made it clear that relations between South Africa and the UAE would be adversely affected.

“We’ve made a passionate plea that is based on realities, based on the technical and medical review processes of this case that is in the best of relations between ourselves and the UAE as well as [relations relating to] co-operation [on multilateral forums],” he said.

Beyond the professor’s own health and the state of bilateral relations between South Africa and the UAE, a failure to conclude the appeals process speedily also affects the Karabus family. Each day that Karabus remains in the UAE, the material cost to his family escalates, alongside the emotional toil.

“The bills have been over the R2 million mark now,” Sarah Karabus told Daily Maverick’s Rebecca Davis earlier this month.

She said that a major part of the detained doctor’s costs were his legal fees, but everyday living expenses in the UAE – where Karabus has been staying with another South African doctor since his release on bail in October – are also very high.

So while Fransman says Karabus is doing well under the circumstances, “strong for the situation he is in”, much hinges on what happens to the appeal process in the criminal court in Abu Dhabi tomorrow – not least the health and welfare of an old man. DM

Read more:

  • Karabus family facing massive financial toll in Daily Maverick
  • The acquittal of Professor Karabus: A group effort in Daily Maverick
  • Time to bring Dr Karabus home in Daily Maverick

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