Three claim assault by police torture allegations: Man dies, woman bedridden

2009-02-05 00:00

A Pietermaritzburg man died in hospital and a woman is bedridden and unable to speak properly after they were allegedly tortured by police officers in separate incidents.

Police officers from the Mountain Rise police station have been accused of using "apartheid interrogating tactics".

A 53-year-old man, Cecil Paul, died on Tuesday night in Grey's Hospital's intensive care unit (ICU) after he was allegedly tortured by police officers on Saturday.

Busi Mbulu (40) is bedridden, unable to speak properly and paranoid after she was allegedly assaulted by police for five hours.

Probhoonath Visvanath was treated for bruises after he was slapped by a police officer. All three said they were tortured in January by Mountain Rise police officers for unrelated matters.

The Witness visited Paul in the ICU hours before he died. He tried to relate what had happened, but was out of breath and his speech was muffled by the ventilator.

"They are supposed to protect us, not brutalise us like this," he said.

Tubes drained fluid from his body and a blood-stained bandage covered his abdomen. His wife, Josephine, said his urinary tract was blocked.

She said doctors could not give the cause of death, but said a postmortem will be conducted today.

Mbulu has not reported the incident to the police as she cannot walk or talk properly. When a Witness reporter entered her living room she screamed with fear and hid her face with a towel. A family member had to calm her.

Her sister, Sibongile Shabalala, said Mbulu has become paranoid. "She went through extreme trauma; she lives in fear. Every night she screams in her sleep, begging for mercy and denying knowing anything."

Nine police officers at Central police station allegedly took turns to beat her and came close to suffocating her, Mbulu said.

"Two police officers came to my workplace on Monday, January 13. They took me to Mountain Rise and locked me there overnight." She said the police wouldn't let her contact her family.

Shabalala said the family became concerned about Mbulu's whereabouts. "On Thursday we went to the Mountain Rise station and inquired there, but we were told she was not there. Then we started searching hospitals."

On Thursday morning police moved Mbulu to Central where she was allegedly tortured. She said she was made to sit on a chair and handcuffed from behind. "They said I must tell them the whereabouts of one of my tenants [who rents a room in Mbulu's back yard]. I told them I did not know where he was.

"One of them placed tube-like rubber across my face, covering the whole face, blocking my nose and mouth. He told me to stamp my foot when I was ready to talk. He pulled it tight and I could not breathe, I was suffocating and choked. I felt that I was bleeding and I told one of the officers that I had just begun menstruating. He told me he would give me pads."

She said she felt "distant touches" all over her body. "Later I realised they were beating me even when I had blacked out."

At one stage, Mbulu said, an officer offered her tablets, but she did not know what they were. "I was dizzy and my mind was not working properly. I obliged and took the pills."

Shabalala said the police arrived at Mbulu's house on Thursday and asked for the tablets. "The officer asked what the tablets my sister was taking were. I told him she had a heart problem. He seemed surprised, but took the tablets and left without saying more."

Police spokeswoman Inspector Joey Jeevan denied that Paul and Visvanath had been assaulted.

She said they were both charged for making a disturbance. "Paul had reported to the police that he was assaulted by his wife and family members and was forced to sleep outside in the rain."

She said police will investigate why Paul was admitted to hospital and necessary action will be taken. The matter has been reported to the Independent Complaints Directorate.

Jeevan would not comment on Mbulu's claims, but said police will investigate the matter.

"The South African Police Service is conscious of a person's rights in terms of our Constitution. Any allegations of misconduct against members when interrogating suspects will be thoroughly investigated. The SAPS does not condone any unacceptable methods," she added.

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