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Shrien’s ‘gay risk’ defence

A dishevelled Shrien Dewani leaves the Belmarsh Magistrate's Court yesterday after he was excused from attending his extradition hearing.

A dishevelled Shrien Dewani leaves the Belmarsh Magistrate's Court yesterday after he was excused from attending his extradition hearing.

Published May 4, 2011


Peter Fabricius

Foreign Editor

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Murder accused Shrien Dewani would be at risk of being raped in a South African prison because of earlier media reports that claimed he was gay, expert witnesses in his defence have testified.

South Africa prison experts Sasha Gear and Amanda Dissel, both formerly of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, testified by video link-up from South Africa that Dewani would be especially vulnerable to rape in prison.

Dewani, accused of murdering his wife Anni in Gugulethu on November 13, appeared in the Belmarsh Magistrate’s Court in south-east London yesterday for his extradition hearing.

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Gear told the court that Dewani, 31, was at risk of a sexual attack in prison because he was young, good-looking, “well-preserved”, a first-time offender unfamiliar with gang or inmate slang and culture, and because he had been identified in media reports as homosexual.

Rape “by Aids-infected gangsters” would turn whatever prison sentence he got into “an almost certain death sentence”, his British advocate, Clare Montgomery QC, told the court


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By extraditing him, Britain would violate its obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights to prevent inhuman or degrading treatment of its citizens, his legal team is arguing.

Montgomery suggested, based on reports she read in court of South African prison conditions, that Dewani would face the strong possibility of rape even in the vehicle transporting him to prison and that he faced having a container of drugs shoved up his rectum to supply hardened inmates.

Gear agreed with her that prison authorities had accepted that rape was now part of prison culture and did very little to try to stop it.

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She also agreed with Montgomery that a controversial television ad recently screened in South Africa showing hardened inmates waiting to rape anyone imprisoned for drunk driving, showed that the wider South African society also now accepted prison rape as normal.

Hugh Keith, QC, for the South African authorities, told the court that prosecutors would produce a witness who would testify that Dewani had told him that his family would disown him if he did not marry Anni.

The witness, who said he had met the accused in September 2009, would testify that Dewani had told him in April last year, five months before the murder, that he was engaged and had to get married.

Dewani had allegedly told him that although Anni was a “nice, lovely girl whom he liked”, he couldn’t break off the engagement.

“He would go on to say to the witness that he needed to find a way out of it,” Keith added.

Dewani showed no reaction to this revelation as he sat slumped in the dock, mumbling with his eyes half-closed, before being excused to return to a secure mental health unit near his family home in Bristol, where he is being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression.

His family has fiercely denied that he ordered the murder of his wife in November, or that he is gay.

And Anni’s father, Vinod Hindocha, said today that he was dumbfounded by suggestions that Shrien may be homosexual.

“What kind of father would give away his lovely, educated daughter to a gay?” Hindocha said indignantly.

Judge Deon van Zyl, the Judge Inspector of Prisons, insisted today in the Dewani extradition hearing that prison officials had become much more responsive to his criticism of prison conditions lately.

Yesterday Dewani’s lawyers quoted from the judge’s latest annual report of 2010 in which he described conditions in South African prisons as “shockingly inhumane”.

But in court giving evidence today, Van Zyl said that the Department of Correctional Services had become much more responsive to his criticisms since the 2008 amendments to legislation which obliged him to submit his reports to the parliamentary portfolio committee and not only to the Minister of Correctional Services.

And he insisted that his remark about shockingly inhumane conditions was general. Some prisons were bad but some were good.

The Department of Correctional Services has given an undertaking to the British authorities that if Dewani was extradited, he would be detained under specific conditions in certain prisons: at Goodwood while awaiting trial, Malmesbury Medium A if sentenced to a medium security prison and Brandvlei Maximum B if sentenced to a maximum security prison.

Such undertakings were unprecedented to his knowledge, he said.

There had been some expectation yesterday that Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle would deliver judgment this week on whether or not Dewani should be extradited.

But he agreed with both legal teams that this week the hearing would hear only evidence on dangerous prison conditions.

Then the hearing would be adjourned until July to hear psychiatrists’ evidence on Dewani’s state of mental health as well as evidence for the other reasons Dewani’s defence believes he should not be extradited.

Riddle excused Dewani from the hearing at the lunchbreak yesterday, so he could return to the secure psychiatric clinic where he has been confined by the court.

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