Lockdown: Religious leaders urged to discourage gatherings after Muslim worshippers arrested

By ANA Reporter Time of article published Apr 26, 2020

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* This story has been updated.

Pretoria - Police Minister Bheki Cele on Sunday urged leaders across various sectors of society, particularly religious leaders, to ensure a national collective and sustained effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19).

This comes after South African Police Service (SAPS) officers arrested 41 people who had allegedly gathered for religious reasons, in direct violation of the Covid-19 Disaster Management Act lockdown regulations.

National police spokesman Vish Naidoo said on Sunday that since the start of the long weekend, the SAPS has arrested 41 congregants in two separate religious gatherings. 

"In the first incident, members of the SAPS Tactical Response Team (TRT) arrested 17 men on Friday, 24 April 2020 at approximately 13:00. This after the congregants converged in a building in Pretoria West in what appeared to be a religious gathering. 

"All 17 suspects are still in police custody as we await confirmation on their nationalities from the Department of Home Affairs," Naidoo said.

They will be either be released on bail, issued with a fine, and or taken to court on Tuesday depending on the outcome of the preliminary investigations, he said.

In a second incident, 24 congregants were arrested after they too formed part of what appeared to be a religious gathering in an area called Masibekela in the Mbuzini policing jurisdiction of Mpumalanga. 

"Contrary to various reports, it was these arrests, and NOT PRETORIA WEST, that were captured on video which went viral on social media platforms," Naidoo said.

"The comment made about Prophet Mohammed, which can be heard at the end of the video, is rather unfortunate and it is unacceptable that someone could make such an utterance. Therefore, the SAPS management has directed that this matter too be investigated and the person/s who made the comment about the Prophet be identified and brought to book,"  Naidoo said.

Cele has issued an apology to the Muslim community for the blasphemous remarks during the arrest.

"Minister Cele wishes to emphasize that police have a constitutional obligation to enforce the laws of the country, a duty to be executed within the confines of the same laws, applied with no prejudice against any gender, race or creed," the SAPS said in a statement..

Earlier in the week, another video clip went viral on social media depicting a man encouraging "all Muslims ... to engage in worship in congregation". Further on in the video the same man offered free legal services to anyone who might get arrested for such contravention, the police ministry said in a statement.

Cele had condemned "this call that seeks to mobilise the public to defy the laws of this country and undermine the authority of the state", and had called for an investigation into the matter.

"It is within this context that minister Cele is reminding all citizens of the country to always be conscious of the primary purpose of the Covid-19 disaster management lockdown regulations, which is to protect South Africans from the coronavirus," the ministry said.

The only gathering permitted under the lockdown is for a funeral service with a limit of 50 people in attendance.

"When people, wittingly or unwittingly, violate the lockdown regulations, police are left with no choice but to enforce the law, where in some instances this means arresting people," Cele said.

"This global pandemic demands that we all make huge sacrifices, making drastic adjustments to the way we live under normal circumstances. So the sooner we accept that these are abnormal times, the closer we can all get to possible solutions towards eradicating the coronavirus once and for all," he said.

African News Agency (ANA)

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