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Police brutality is real for someone who looks like me, says opera star Pretty Yende after Paris airport ordeal

South African opera star Pretty Yende. Picture: Facebook/Pretty Yende

South African opera star Pretty Yende. Picture: Facebook/Pretty Yende

Published Jun 24, 2021


Johannesburg - World renowned South African opera star Pretty Yende said she was “traumatised” after the soprano was detained at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, and has accused immigration authorities of racial discrimination.

The soprano, who is in France for a string of performances, took to social media on Tuesday and accused French customs agents of treating her with “outrageous racial discrimination”.

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“Police brutality is real for someone who looks like me. I’ve always read about it on the news, and most of my brothers and sisters end up being tortured and some fatal cases make headlines and dead bodies suddenly appear with made-up stories,” the 36-year-old wrote.

Yende said she was “in shock and traumatised” and that she came out of the situation because of one phone call.

She did not, however, explain why she was detained.

The soprano alleges that Paris customs agents took all of her belongings, including her cellphone, and told her to write down the phone numbers of her close family members and friends to call with a landline phone in the retention cell.

“They said they were going to take me to a ‘prison hotel’ in the meantime, while they looked at me like I was a criminal offender,” she said.

Yende said she informed the agents that her phone battery was dying and allegedly requested a charger, but this was denied.

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“I said ‘What?’ and he continued and said ‘Listen to me until I finish’ with a very harsh and condescending tone. I replied ‘Am I a prisoner?’ and he rudely said yes,” Yende said.

She then decided to comply, do what the customs officials said, and not try to “defend” herself on French soil.

“I was stripped and searched like a criminal offender and put in the retention cell… It was cold in there, there was no light at the beginning, cold and grey. They left me there alone with the landline phone and a piece of paper they gave me to write down phone numbers of those I could call,” Yende alleged.

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She added that the officials allegedly refused to address her in English and she could hear them talking and laughing down the hallway.

AFP reported that a French police source said the soprano had arrived from Milan on a South African passport without a visa. The source further denied that Yende was asked to remove her clothes and said Yende was held for “verification” purposes that had nothing to do with the colour of her skin.

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