Family and friends were visibly shocked in court on Wednesday when a British judge recommended that Shrien Dewani should be extradited to South Africa to stand trial as an accused in the murder of his wife Anni while they were on honeymoon in Cape Town last year.
A final decision will now have to be made by the British Home Secretary Theresa May and it is expected that the Dewani family will appeal the judgment if it goes against them, his brother Preyen Dewani told the Mail & Guardian before the court began.
Thirty-one year old Dewani’s supporters occupied the press gallery above the court during the tense proceedings, while his former in-laws took up seats near the judge. The families did not greet each other when they passed in the corridors.
Wearing his trademark high-collar tracksuit top, Dewani sat behind glass, with two security guards on either side of him. All three sat motionless throughout the lengthy judgment reading, which gave no clear indication of which way it was going until the end.
After district court judge Howard Riddle had spent two hours reading his judgment in the Woolwich Crown Court in South-East London, he dropped the bombshell that he would recommend to the Home Secretary that Dewani should be extradited to South Africa. Riddle said that there was huge public interest in the case.
No comment from Shrien Dewani’s family
Dewani’s upset parents and family later slipped out of court without making any comment to the large media contingent waiting outside with cameras and recorders.
Anni Dewani’s family welcomed the ruling, saying it was a step towards “closure”.
“Nothing will bring Anni back, my beautiful, little, innocent sister who was killed. But getting this decision, today at least we will get somewhere,” Anni’s sister Ami Denborg said.
“I think she will not rest in peace until all this is over, and this is one step in the right direction for us.”
For months, the South African police have been trying to get Dewani extradited to South Africa to face trial. He was not a suspect when he left the country, four days after his 28-year old wife was shot in Cape Town.
The accused’s version of events
Dewani claimed the couple were taking a drive through the crime-ridden township of Gugulethu when their taxi was hijacked on November 13. He alleged he was thrown out of the vehicle while his wife was driven off and shot dead.
Driver Zola Tongo was jailed for 18 years after turning state witness and pleaded guilty to his part in the killing. He claimed Dewani had ordered the shooting and paid him, but Dewani denies any wrongdoing.
While the extradition proceedings have been underway in past months, Dewani was excused from court due to his illness. Riddle said today he did not believe he was faking illness and said that expert witnesses had said he was suffering from depression and sever post-traumatic stress disorder.
Riddle said that Dewani had consistently claimed his innocence and needed to stand trial to prove it.
The judge said he expected there would be “undoubted hardship” for Dewani if he were extradited to South Africa. Among the problems were that his family would not be close by, he said.
Great public interest
“However, when all relevant factors are considered, the risk of hardship falls short of oppression. The public interest in extradition and trials outweighs the competing hardship,” said Riddle.
Judge Riddle dismissed defence arguments that there had been an abuse of process in South Africa, going through the potential risks posed to Dewani in a South African jail, including gang culture, overcrowding, the risk of catching HIV and the level of vulnerability to sexual assault.
However, the judge said he was “satisfied that the authorities will take all reasonable steps to protect him”, adding that Dewani would be kept in a single cell.
A spokesperson for May’s Home Office, or interior ministry, said the court had found there were “no statutory bars” to Dewani’s extradition, but added: “The secretary of state will now decide whether to order his extradition.”
Speaking to reporters outside court, Anni Dewani’s father said the judge’s decision was “a fair one”.
“As a father, I demand justice against whoever is involved in this and I wish I get that justice,” said Vinod Hindocha.
Riddle said it was for the South African courts to determine whether Dewani was guilty.
“Either Mr Dewani arranged for his new bride to be brutally murdered or he himself has been the victim of a terrible tragedy,” he said.
South Africa wants to prosecute Dewani for murder, kidnapping, robbery with aggravating circumstances, conspiracy to commit murder and obstructing the administration of justice.
Regional National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila welcomed the ruling, but said: “We need to emphasise that this is the beginning of a new process, it’s not the final decision.”
He said they would like to have Dewani in court on September 20 alongside the two men alleged to have murdered his wife, Mziwamadoda Qwabe and Xolile Mngeni. — Additional reporting by AFP