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South Africa ruling opens way for apartheid-era prosecutions

By MOGOMOTSI MAGOMEJune 3, 2019
FILE - In this Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017 file photo, Imtiaz Cajee, nephew of Ahmed Timol, poses with his book "Timol, A Quest for Justice" in the North Gauteng High court in Pretoria, South Africa. A former South African police officer will face trial over the 1971 killing of an anti-apartheid activist after a court ruling that could lead to the prosecution of similar crimes. The high court in Johannesburg on Monday, June 3, 2019 dismissed 80-year-old Joao Rodrigues' application for a permanent stay of prosecution. (AP Photo, File)
FILE - In this Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017 file photo, Imtiaz Cajee, nephew of Ahmed Timol, poses with his book "Timol, A Quest for Justice" in the North Gauteng High court in Pretoria, South Africa. A former South African police officer will face trial over the 1971 killing of an anti-apartheid activist after a court ruling that could lead to the prosecution of similar crimes. The high court in Johannesburg on Monday, June 3, 2019 dismissed 80-year-old Joao Rodrigues' application for a permanent stay of prosecution. (AP Photo, File)

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A former South African police officer will face trial over the 1971 killing of an anti-apartheid activist after a court ruling that could lead to the prosecution of similar crimes .

The high court in Johannesburg on Monday dismissed 80-year-old Joao Rodrigues’ application for a permanent stay of prosecution.

An inquiry had been reopened into the death of Ahmed Timol, who police said jumped to his death from a Johannesburg police station where opponents of white minority rule were often held.

Timol’s family argued he was tortured and killed. A court in 2017 agreed, saying evidence suggested that Timol was pushed out the window, and paving the way for Rodrigues to face trial. Rodrigues has said the activist dove out of the window before he could stop him.

A National Prosecuting Authority spokeswoman, Phindi Louw, said Monday’s ruling affirms that people who committed crimes during the apartheid era cannot dodge prosecution on the basis of how long ago the crimes took place.

The prosecuting authority now should pursue perpetrators of other apartheid-era crimes, said the Southern Africa Litigation Center, which made submissions in the Timol case.

“I’m hopeful that this case will pave the way for other such crimes to be prosecuted,” SALC’s Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh said.

Timol’s nephew, Imtiaz Cajee, said his family was fortunate to have Timol’s inquest reopened. He also urged the NPA to prosecute similar cases in which families of victims had not found justice.

Timol was one of 73 political detainees who died in police custody in South Africa between 1963 and 1990. A small plaque inside the lobby of the Johannesburg building where Timol died lists their names. White minority rule ended in the country with all-race elections in 1994.

Nearly 300 apartheid-era cases had been referred to the NPA for prosecution by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was chaired by Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu and investigated apartheid-era atrocities and granted amnesty to some accused perpetrators.

Other apartheid-era police officers implicated in Timol’s death have died over the years.

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