Treason charges deferred - students' lawyer

Johannesburg - Six students arrested outside Parliament in Cape Town during an anti-university fees protest would have possible treason charges deferred while the matter was investigated, their lawyer said on Thursday.

Bruce Hendricks, a lawyer for the six arrested during Wednesday's university fees protest at the Parliament precinct, told broadcaster eNCA the treason charges had been deferred for further investigation.

"We attended the Bellville office of the Hawks and there they [the students] were charged with trespassing, one of the charges, as well as the Illegal Gatherings Act, where they said the guys weren't supposed to access the National Keypoints Act, Parliament, and then a final charge of treason," he told the broadcaster.

"We just had a meeting with a senior prosecutor at Cape Town and he advised us that he instructed the members of the Hawks to defer the investigation with regard to the treason charges in order for them to make an informed decision about that charge."

Constitutional right

The students were shocked at first upon hearing of the treason charge, with Hendricks saying the only message they wanted to get across was they were exercising their constitutional rights in protesting against university fees.

"That's basically the message they want to get out there and they were arrested for treason which under normal circumstances you would think is to overthrow the government," he said.

"That's their basic understanding of it."

He said the matter had been postponed to Friday, with the six unaware when they would exactly appear in court.

"We were advised by the prosecution that they will only appear tomorrow [Friday] due to the fact that they have to do investigations surrounding this trespassing charge," Hendricks said.

"However, we [took] instructions from our clients to approach the High Court for urgent application for their release as we want them out as soon as possible."

Treason rumours untrue

Meanwhile, the Hawks strongly contradicted reports the six were to be charged with treason.

Spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi in a statement said contrary to allegations circulating regarding the six being charged with treason "following the mayhem at Parliament on Wednesday", the Hawks and police sought to set the record straight and "dispel such malicious rumours".

"During the illegal protest which saw students forcing their way into the Parliament premises, six students were arrested and were detained at Cape Town police station," he said.

"They will appear before the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court on Thursday, facing charges of trespassing and contravening the Gatherings Act."

Mulaudzi urged media houses, journalists and all media practitioners to find out the exact charges and get facts before publishing, or posting on their personal social media accounts.

"Irresponsible reporting and speculations have the potential of fuelling unnecessary violence," he said.

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