DEATH IN DETENTION
Not accidental – Activist Imam Haron died after being tortured by police, reopened inquest finds
During the height of apartheid in March 1970, Magistrate JSP Kuhn in March found that the death of South African Muslim cleric and activist Imam Abdullah Haron was caused by an accidental fall down some stairs. On Monday, this inquest judgment was set aside in the Western Cape high court, which found that Haron died as a result of torture.
In his ruling in the reopened inquest, Judge Daniel Thulare stated that Imam Haron died as a result of a cumulative effect of torture injuries, including crush syndrome.
Thulare stated that Haron had endured immense suffering at the hands of police. Furthermore, it was said that the criminal justice system was complicit in Haron’s death as he received no trial during his four months of detention.
Haron was summoned to Caledon Square police station on 28 May 1969, as a consequence of his political and anti-apartheid activism.
He was detained by one of the Security Branch’s officers — Johannes ‘Spyker’ van Wyk — under the so-called Terrorism Act. While in detention, he was tortured by police and denied visits from his family. By 27 September 1969 — 123 days later — Haron was dead. The police claimed he’d fallen down a staircase while in detention, which had caused his death.
In a statement released on 31 May 2022, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola asked the Western Cape judge president to designate a judge to reopen the inquest into the death of Haron.
Summary of the judgment:
- Magistrate Kuhn had no real desire to establish and reach the truth. The version of the police was constricted by the findings of forensic pathologist Dr Scwar who examined the body of the Iman.
- The police failed to explain, in their own version, the trauma which could not be explained by the fall, and the magistrate simply said he was unable to determine how that balance of the trauma was caused.
- The magistrate’s finding, frankly and candidly reduced to Iman falling and suffering a heart attack would be laughable, were it not the cause of such severe pain and heartache for those who sought the truth and closure.
The court also found that the injuries Iman sustained were not consistent with somebody falling down stairs. Normally in such instances, it was said, there would be injuries to the back, shoulders, neck and head.
“The absence of injuries to the buttocks, the back aside from the old bruise on the lower back, neck and head, when considered against the magnitude of the impact velocities that Iman’s body parts would have struck the stairs, the version of the police that the Imam’s injuries were sustained during a fall down a staircase is not credible,” the court found.
Imam Haron’ son Muhammed Haron, a professor of Religious Studies, said: “No family that has encountered this political situation would have ever got full closure. And for me partially the State is partly responsible because they have dragged their feet in terms of opening the inquest.
“If the government had acted back then in 1994 things would have been much better.” DM
This is a developing story.