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Pretoria - Czech fugitive Radovan Krejcir courted the media for his own purposes and cannot now say he wants them excluded, the High Court in Pretoria heard on Thursday.
On Thursday, the Mail&Guardian, Independent Newspapers and Media 24 applied for a court order allowing them access to Krejcir's Refugee Appeal Board hearing.
Last year, the media organisations obtained an interim interdict to stop Krejcir's Refugee Appeal Board hearing from continuing pending the outcome of their application for access.
Krejcir came to South Africa via the Seychelles with a false passport in 2007.
He lodged an appeal after his application for refugee status in South Africa was turned down.
In 2010, the High Court in Johannesburg overturned the government's refusal to extradite Krejcir to the Czech Republic and ordered that the matter be reheard.
The Refugee Appeal Board turned down applications by the media organisations to attend Krejcir's appeal hearing on the grounds that all refugee appeals were heard in secret.
However, the media organisations contended that the board's rules gave it the discretion to grant the media access in exceptional cases.
Krejcir launched a counter-application to have the Board's rules declared invalid.
The media organisations responded with an application to declare section 21(5) of the Refugees Act invalid.
Both sides filed confidential affidavits dealing with Krejcir's personal circumstances.
Geoff Budlender SC, for the media organisations, argued that Krejcir had gone public about his asylum application because he feared South Africa would send him back to the Seychelles.
He said most of the information Krejcir now wanted to keep secret was already in the public domain.
“He is a high profile figure who has put himself in the public arena. He is someone who is suspected of having links to organised crime in South Africa,” Budlender said.
“It is apparent that he actively conducted a media campaign in which he invited members of the media to interview him... behind bullet-proof glass.
“He courted the media for his own purposes and can no longer say he doesn't want the media to intrude into his personal affairs.
“... The public has an interest to know if a person such as Krejcir, who is suspected of having links to organised crime in South Africa, is granted asylum.
“... If the media is not allowed in, all they will know is if he is granted refugee status or not. The public will want to know why if he is granted asylum,” Budlender said.
Gilbert Marcus SC, for Krejcir, argued that the media's case was at odds with both the principle in international law that confidentiality applied to every stage of an asylum claim, and with the structure and context of the Refugees Act as a whole.
He said confidentiality at every stage of asylum proceedings was a feature of refugee law in virtually every major jurisdiction.
The Refugee Appeal Board was not a court, but was a statutory body to which the principle of open justice could not be uncritically transplanted.
He argued that the integrity of the asylum system would be seriously affected and that the safety of witnesses, relatives and associates of the asylum-seeker might be endangered if the hearing took place in public.
“The asylum seeker has privacy and dignity interests which are heightened in the context of an asylum hearing.
“The fairness of the asylum hearing may be compromised ... if the hearing does not take place in private,” Marcus said.
The application continues. - Sapa