| JOHANNESBURG

Civil society organisations defend Helen Suzman Foundation

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Activist groups condemn “thuggish” raid

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Nearly 20 civil society organisations have issued a statement condemning the armed robbery at the Helen Suzman Foundation on Sunday.

 “While we are divergent organisations, with divergent mandates, we all share a common precondition to operating, namely, independence and protection from capricious government intervention. On this principle we all stand united,” the statement reads.

The signatories include social movements such as the Treatment Action Campaign and the Social Justice Coalition as well as several public interest law firms.

According to the Foundation, the robbers held up a security guard and removed the organisation’s computers.

The Foundation and the organisation Freedom under Law are seeking an interdict against the head of the Hawks, Major General Berning Ntlemeza. There is widespread suspicion that the robbery of the HSF office is in some way linked to this.

Below is the statement published by the civil society organisations.

Disclosure: Community Media Trust, which owns GroundUp, is a signatory to the statement.

NGO Statement on Helen Suzman Foundation Raid

22 March 2016

On Sunday afternoon the Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF) offices in Parktown, Johannesburg were the target of a military-style raid. Those conducting the raid clearly knew what they were looking for: computers and other documentation relating to the programmatic work of the HSF were taken. The brazen, co-ordinated nature of the operation and its targeted, selective focus are sinister. So, too, is its timing.

In its bid to promote constitutional democracy, the HSF undertakes vital but often politically sensitive and contentious activity. Among its most recent activities was the launch last Wednesday of an application in the Pretoria High Court to block the head of the Hawks from exercising any of his powers pending the outcome of its application to have his appointment set aside as irrational and unlawful.

We, the undersigned, are alarmed at the raid on the HSF. While we are divergent organisations, with divergent mandates, we all share a common precondition to operating, namely, independence and protection from capricious government intervention. On this principle we all stand united.

We recognise the raid as thuggery intended probably to intimidate the HSF and others in civil society engaged in promoting constitutional democracy, advancing human rights, fighting endemic corruption and protecting the Rule of Law.

The culprits of the raid have yet to be identified, but we note that it takes place in a context of increasing hostility by some within the state towards civil society. Should it be established that the perpetrators of the raid are in any way linked to police, army or intelligence functionaries, it will represent an attack on our democracy of the gravest kind. Even absent such linkages, government is not without responsibility. The enmity currently characterising its relationship with outspoken NGOs helps encourage the view that NGOs are fair targets.

To discharge its responsibility, government will need to act swiftly and decisively. We call on it to ensure that the raid is properly investigated and the perpetrators prosecuted.

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TOPICS:  Government Human Rights Policing

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