Helene Passtoors Convicted Of Treason
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ A 44-year-old linguist whose former husband has been a fugitive in the Dutch Embassy since last summer today was convicted of treason for assisting the outlawed African National Congress.
The defendant, Helene Passtoors, was acquitted of a second charge of terrorism.
Justice Tjibbe Spoelstra recessed the hearing after pronouncing his verdict. It was not clear when he would sentence Ms. Passtoors, who has been imprisoned since her arrest last June.
Ms. Passtoors holds dual Dutch-Belgian citizenship. She had been in the country for five months on a study permit prior to her arrest.
Conviction for treason carries a maximum sentence of death, although in practice South African courts do not impose the death sentence unless the defendant’s acts have resulted in deaths.
Spoelstra rejected defense claims that as a foreign citizen Ms. Passtoors could not be prosecuted for treason. He said she became subject to South Africa’s treason laws when she took up residence in South Africa.
The judge said evidence during the trial proved Ms. Passtoors was an ANC member, itself a treasonous act in South Africa, and that she used secret ANC codes for communication with the group.
But he said it was not proven that she had set up communications networks and secret arms caches for the ANC, which would have been grounds for a terrorism conviction, or that she had created emergency escape routes for ANC members.
The judge said the arms smuggling and establishment of arms caches appeared to have been the work of her former husband, Klaas de Jonge, who took refuge in the Dutch Embassy in Pretoria last July. De Jonge, who is charged with terrorism, has escaped prosecution through the mission’s diplomatic immunity.
Ms. Passtoors’ mother and four children were in the court today.
De Jonge, a teacher who had lived in neighboring Zimbabwe, was arrested by security police last June, at the same time as Ms. Passtoors, and accused of smuggling arms into South Africa for the ANC. He escaped onto embassy premises and was rearrested on the grounds, prompting Dutch protests that police had violated diplomatic rights.
South Africa turned de Jonge over to embassy officials after acknowledging a technical violation of international law, but then said the Dutch must hand de Jonge back to face trial. The utch refused, and lengthy negotiations have reached a standstill. De Jonge is living in an embassy office.
The African National Congress, based in Lusaka, Zambia, is the main guerrilla group fighting South Africa’s white-led government. The ANC says its goals, which it believes can only be achieved by the overthrow of the white government, are for one-man, one-vote in a unitary state.