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Apex court rules Boeremag family can keep their laptops in prison cells

24 January 2022 - 09:40
The Boeremag prisoners are entitled to use their personal computers without the use of a modem in their cells for as long as they remain registered students with a recognised tertiary institution.
The Boeremag prisoners are entitled to use their personal computers without the use of a modem in their cells for as long as they remain registered students with a recognised tertiary institution.
Image: 123RF/DEAN DROBOT

Justice and correctional services minister Ronald Lamola and the department of correctional services have failed to convince the Constitutional Court to overturn a 2018 high court ruling granting three sentenced prisoners permission to keep their laptops in their cells for study purposes.

The apex court delivered the verdict on Friday.

The prisoners involved in the court proceedings were Boeremag members Dr Lets Pretorius and his sons doctors Johan and Wilhelm Pretorius.

The ruling comes after Lets Pretorius’ release from prison in 2020 alongside another of his sons, Kobus,  who was said to be a bomb manufacturer.

In its ruling, the apex court said: “ I am of the view the respondents have the following basic human rights: the right to human dignity; the right to study, and; the right to further education. They are entitled to the enjoyment of these rights, unless justifiable limitations are placed on the enjoyment of such rights.

“The education policy of the department infringes on those rights without justification, which means they unfairly discriminate against the respondents as envisaged by the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 4.

“These infringements do not serve a purpose considered legitimate by all reasonable citizens in a constitutional democracy that values human dignity, equality and freedom above all other considerations. They impose costs, especially for the respondents, that are disproportionate to the benefits it obtains.

“The court a quo was therefore correct in its finding that the said policy constitutes unfair discrimination and the relevant provision should be reviewed and set aside. Consequently, the appeal must fail.”

It was the appellant’s case that the three — who said they needed their laptops, without modems, to access their study material — would, among other things, pose a security threat to the prison facility.

They claimed the high court misdirected itself in rejecting their contention that prisoners having unlimited access to their computers meant these devices could easily be turned into sites for liaison with outside criminal elements with a view to promoting criminality and involvement in illicit organisations, including promotion and facilitation of prison breaks.

The trio hit back, laying down a case which stated that prohibiting access by sentenced prisoners to computers adversely affects their equal enjoyment of their right to human dignity and their right to education and to study further, and  amounting to unfair discrimination.

They said the department of correctional services, the Zonderwater facility and Lamola’s stance that these posed a security threat were unfounded.

They said some of the open time they were given in prison had to be used, for instance, to attend clinic for check-ups and medical treatment, which would cut into their open time by between two to three hours on the affected days when they needed to use the computers.

They submitted the computer room would sometimes open later than 7am. Access to the computer room was often not allowed due to a general lockdown as a result of security concerns. Additionally, their open time would regularly by reduced by them attending ablutions, having breakfast and receiving visitors.

Writing assignments by hand and later typing them out meant they were usually behind on their assignments.

Following this ruling, the prisoners are entitled to use their personal computers without the use of a modem in their cells for as long as they remain registered students with any recognised tertiary institution in SA.

The court ruled their computers be made available for inspection at any given time.

TimesLIVE


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