Original Post Date: 2004-05-20 Time: 10:58:30 Posted By: Jan
[These poor buggers are probably innocent. The ANC will leave them to rot in foreign jails, just as it abandoned white South African farmers in Zimbabwe. Jan]
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Seventy suspected South African mercenaries have begun a high court action demanding their government prevent their extradition from Zimbabwe to Equatorial Guinea, their lawyer says.
The move came after Equatorial Guinea’s attorney general visited South Africa to meet the families of another group of men being held in the tiny oil-rich country on suspicion of being part of the plot to seize power.
The 70 men in Zimbabwe have been held in a high security prison since March, when they were seized along with their plane on suspicion of plotting to topple President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea.
Their lawyer, Alwyn Griebenow, wrote letters to President Thabo Mbeki this week giving him until Wednesday morning to respond to their demands or face high court action.
“We have had no response. We have issued papers in court. We are serving on them now in the Pretoria High Court,” Griebenow told Reuters by telephone from Pretoria.
“What we are requiring firstly is that they, as a matter of extreme urgency, consult with the Zimbabwean government and ask either for the release or extradition of our men back to South Africa,” Griebenow said.
Griebenow complained in his letter that the men were being denied basic human rights in Zimbabwe, and said his court application also asked Pretoria to seek assurances from Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea that they would not be tortured or face the death penalty, which South Africa has abolished.
Government lawyers said Mbeki’s office would oppose the application at a high court hearing on Tuesday May 25.
The 70 men detained in Zimbabwe mostly hail from South Africa, Angola and Namibia, but all are South African citizens. They are accused of plotting to overthrow Obiang along with a smaller group arrested at the same time in Equatorial Guinea.
The suspects deny the charges, saying they were heading to the Democratic Republic of Congo to guard mining operations.
Zimbabwe has added Equatorial Guinea to its extradition legislation in apparent preparation to send the 70 for trial in Equatorial Guinea, where their lawyers and human rights groups say they will not get a fair trial.
Equatorial Guinea’s attorney general visited South Africa this week and assured families of the South Africans detained in the capital Malabo that they would get a fair trial, the South African government said in a statement on Wednesday.
Equatorial Guinea officials had also given the families a “likely date” for their first court appearance, it added.
But Lawyer Bernhard van der Hoven earlier told Reuters that even after the meeting he remained concerned his clients would not get a fair trial in Equatorial Guinea, where human rights groups have denounced widespread abuse of Obiang’s opponents.