The North Gauteng High Court, in Pretoria, has ordered that four of the Boeremag treason-trial accused may no longer be held in leg irons overnight.
Judge Andre Louw granted the urgent court order on Monday following an application by the accused, Mike du Toit, Herman van Rooyen, Tom Vorster and Rudi Gouws.
He also ordered that correctional services must immediately return their laptop computers to them.
The four complained that they were sleep deprived and unable to concentrate on legal argument by their counsel in court or to give proper instructions because they were forced to sleep in leg irons with the lights on at night.
They also complained their laptops contained privileged instructions to their legal representatives.
They said correctional services had never given them any reasons for extending their period in isolation and shackles from seven to 30 days.
Counsel for the four Piet Pistorius argued that the “draconian” measures were unnecessary, as the four were already being held in a high security section within the jail, where they were guarded 24 hours a day.
“It is inhumane treatment to force an inmate to sleep in shackles at night,” he said.
Correctional services opposed the application, saying the Correctional Services Act and regulations authorised them to restrain inmates, who tried to escape, in this manner.
Solly Sithole SC argued on behalf of correctional services that the four were at the top of the list of high-risk inmates and were not the only ones who were kept in isolation and shackles.
“It’s a question of branding of an inmate as a high-risk inmate,” he said.
Louw said he had to accept that the four said they could not sleep properly at night.
He said correctional services may have acted within the Act and regulations, but still had to justify the extension of the measures in terms of the Constitution, and had not given reasons for the extension.
It also did not give any reasons why the accused’s laptop computers should not be returned to them.
Louw ordered each party to pay its own costs.
Failed escape bid
The four, together with the elderly Vis Visagie, staged a failed escape bid during a tea break at the court last month, but were all recaptured shortly thereafter.
Visagie was rushed to hospital after collapsing at court the next day. He is still in hospital after undergoing heart surgery.
Du Toit was also absent from court on Monday as he was being treated for injuries apparently sustained during the escape bid.
Six of the other incarcerated accused have, meanwhile, also threatened to launch an urgent application as they had to appear in court in leg irons and lost all of their privileges along with the five who tried to escape.
Van Rooyen and Gouws were previously on the run for eight months after escaping from the court cells in 2008.
The state has asked for the conviction of all 20 accused on the main charge of high treason, arguing that a right-wing plot to violently overthrow the government was continuing to this day. — Sapa