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Media denied access to Krejcir refugee appeal

Nelly Shamase

Czech fugitive Radovan Krejcir's appeal to be granted permanent refugee status in South Africa will be heard behind closed doors.

Czech fugitive Radovan Krejcir. (M&G)

Judge Hans Fabricius ruled in favour of the state and Krejcir at the North Gauteng High Court on Thursday when he refused to grant media houses access to the latter's upcoming refugee status appeal.

Fabricius' ruling comes in the wake of a two-day hearing that took place at the Pretoria court two weeks ago.

The hearing – a joint application brought by the Mail & Guardian, Independent Newspapers and Media24 – was an attempt to convince the court to allow journalists to be present during Krejcir's appeal on his refugee status

During his representation of the three media houses in mid-November, Alfred Cockrell argued that Krejcir was a public figure who openly courted the media and used them for fame therefore his subsequent request for a private refugee appeal hearing was not justified.

The defense, in their argument, asked Fabricius to bar the media as Refugee Appeal Board rules were very clear that they be held behind closed doors regardless of who the applicant was otherwise the integrity of the proceedings may be compromised.

Following Fabricius' ruling in the latter's favour, media lawyer Dario Milo later told the M&G that an appeal is being considered pending a meeting with counsel.

"Although the judge declared that the ban on access infringed freedom of expression and open justice, he held that the infringement was justifiable on the basis of policy factors that favour confidentiality in asylum proceedings. We are disappointed that the judge accepted that a blanket ban on such access was justifiable, given our argument that a discretion to allow access far better balanced the competing interests involved," said Milo.

Despite ruling against the media, Fabricius found that "the application raised important matters of constitutional substance" so there would be no order as to costs.

Krejcir arrived in the country via the Seychelles in 2007. He applied for refugee status in South Africa but was unsuccessful.

He has appealed the refusal but the appeal hearings have been postponed pending Thursday's ruling on whether the media be allowed to attend them or not.

A date has yet to be set for the upcoming appeal.

Krejcir was again convicted in absentia in his native Czech Republic last week and sentenced to 11 years behind bars for tax evasion of more than half-a-billion crowns, the Prague Daily Monitor reported.

In addition, he was fined three million crowns. His latest conviction follows in the footsteps off other convictions of fraud and tax evasion made against him in his absence in the Czech Republic.

Krejcir is fighting attempts to extradite him to back to the Czech Republic as he fears persecution.

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