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Monday, June 21, 2010

Summary justice

Marina Hyde has a startling article in this morning's Guardian over the way that South Africa is coping with the law and order side of the tens of thousands of football fans who have descended on their country for the World Cup.

Personally, I was a bit shocked to see on last night's news the fan who dodged security to say hello to David Beckham in the England dressing room being led manacled from a South African police van, but it seems that this is the tip of the iceberg.

Marina Hyde writes that in its keenness to dispel its crime-ridden image before the tournament, South Africa agreed to the establishment of 56 World Cup Courts across the country, staffed by more than 1,500 dedicated personnel, including magistrates, prosecutors, public defenders and interpreters:

Intended to dispense speedy justice, they sit late into the night – or rather they twiddle their thumbs late into the night, because a mere 25 cases have been heard at the time of writing. According to the Mail and Guardian newspaper, that clocks in at a competitively priced £160,000 a conviction.

The most high-profile cases have been the two Zimbabweans who robbed some foreign journalists on a Wednesday, were arrested on the Thursday, and began 15-year jail sentences on the Friday; and the Dutch women who wore orange dresses to Soccer City stadium and were charged with "ambush marketing" for Bavaria beer. The ladies appeared before Johannesburg magistrates last week – despite their arrest being denounced as "disproportionate" by the Netherlands foreign minister and an embassy official – and were bailed to return on Tuesday on criminal charges which carry a maximum penalty of six months.

Obviously, offences of theft and assault are serious matters and need to be dealt with but 'ambush marketing'? The explanation is that in 2006 South Africa placed on its statute book in 2006 something called the 2010 Fifa World Cup South Africa Special Measures Act:

The women in orange are accused of contravening two sections of this law, namely the parts that prohibit "unauthorised commercial activities inside an exclusion zone" and "enter[ing] into a designated area while in unauthorised possession of a commercial object".

What is so radical about the legislation, though, is the fact that it makes such activity a criminal rather than civil offence. Not only does this arguably debase what it is to be a crime, but it contravenes rights enshrined in South Africa's constitution. In March, Fifa successfully pursued a low- cost airline for using pictures of footballs, vuvuzelas, and stadiums in its advertising, causing a South African legal expert to voice amazement at the "excesses" of the World Cup legislation, and to lament the choice the government made "to placate Fifa" at the expense of freedom of expression.

Even China stopped short of criminalising this sort of activity, which frankly is an affront to human rights and freedom of expression. It must surely be very worrying when a government can bolster commercial profitability by making it illegal to undermine the efforts of sponsors. Perhaps we should examine more closely any laws Labour brought into effect to support next year's Olympics. This commercialisation of the state must be reversed. It has already gone too far.
"Personally, I was a bit shocked to see on last night's news the fan who dodged security to say hello to David Beckham in the England dressing room being led manacled from a South African police van"

Same thing would have happened in the supposedly civilised USA
Anon> errr, I don't think so. Talking or criticizing here (in the USA) is covered by the First Amendment - it's like a religion here.
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