NEWS: The South African police have come under scrutiny after a video of one arrest operation at Muslim prayer gathering had gone viral this weekend. As the Muslim nation enters their first weekend of Ramadan, police authorities are cracking down on those who flout the regulations in place during lockdown.
A total of 41 Muslim congregants were arrested at two separate religious gatherings in Pretoria and Mpumalanga, national police spokesperson Brig Vishnu Naidoo said on Sunday. One video of the Mpumalanga operation soon went viral where police are seen walking into the prayer gathering at Masibekela in the Mbuzini policing jurisdiction of Mpumalanga.
The police officer is heard asking
“What’s going on here,” one officer asked?” All of you down,” another officer ordered.
“You think your president is crazy, nê,” says one of the police officers.
One person lifts up his hands, wanting to reply but is quickly reprimanded and told to keep quiet. He said he lived on the premises.
“You are all under arrest,” the officers shout. A child was among those gathered to pray.
The situation got worse for the police officers when one asked, “Are you bigger than the president? Or is Muhammad bigger than the president.”
Muslim bodies react to arrest incidents
The Council of Muslim Theologians – the Jamiatul Ulama South Africa — has admitted that the prayer gatherings by those individuals were wrong as the rest country remains under lockdown. However the council has called on the SA Human Rights Commission to investigate the conduct of the police during those bust operations.
According to TimesLIVE, the South African police minister Bheki Cele has apologised to the Muslim community for blasphemous remarks made by officers during the arrest of Muslim worshippers for breaking lockdown regulations. Cele had “taken note of a video clip circulating on social media” which had subsequently been confirmed by the SAPS as depicting the arrest of about 24 worshippers on Saturday at Masibekela in the Mbuzini area in Mpumalanga.
“The group was arrested for contravening the Covid-19 Disaster Management Lockdown Regulations in relation to the prohibition of gatherings,” said police spokesperson Brig Mathapelo Peters.
The second operation was carried out in Pretoria were 17 men who had converged in a building in Pretoria West at another religious gathering.
The Council of Muslim Theologians said in a statement that “apart from the verbal abuse which is demeaning of the name of the Prophet Muhammad [peace be upon him], the SAPS officers are also seen entering the prayer room in their heavy boots”.
“Such images are distressing to Muslims who consider prayer places as sacred and entered upon only without shoes.”
Cele said police iterated that the police has 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 Muslim council felt that the authorities were heavy-handed in the operation but accepted that the rule of law applies where lockdown violations were discovered during this Ramadan under lockdown.