Further information on TLX 15/91 (AFR 53/11/91, 4 March) - South Africa: fear of execution: Paul Bezuidenhout
EXTERNAL (for general distribution) AI Index: AFR 53/12/91
6 March 1991
Further information on TLX 15/91 (AFR 53/11/91, 4 March 1991) - Fear of Execution
SOUTH AFRICA:Paul BEZUIDENHOUT
Paul Bezuidenhout, who was scheduled to be executed on 5 March 1991, was granted
a last-minute stay of execution by the Supreme Court (Transvaal Provincial
Division) on the afternoon of 4 March. He had been convicted of murder on 15
September 1989 in the Supreme Court (Northern Cape Division) and his appeal
against his sentence of death was dismissed by the Appeal Court on 28 September
1990. The State President had subsequently rejected his petition for clemency.
On 26 February 1991 Paul Bezuidenhout was informed that he would be executed
on 5 March.
On 3 March lawyers petitioned the Minister of Justice to grant a stay
of execution pending their full submission to him of new evidence in the case.
When, on the following day, the minister rejected this petition, the lawyers
then made an urgent application in the Supreme Court for a stay of execution.
They presented to the court sworn affadavits from a psychologist and a
psychiatrist who had recently examined Paul Bezuidenhout. Their testimony
indicated that there were extenuating factors in his case which had not
previously been presented to the trial court. The lawyers asked the court for
a stay of execution to enable them to petition the Minister of Justice,
requesting him to use his powers under Section 327 of the Criminal Procedure
Act (as amended in 1990) to refer the evidence back to the original trial court.
The Attorney General, representing the Minister of Justice, opposed the
application in court, arguing that it was brought in bad faith, that it
constituted an abuse of procedures and that there was no substance to the
evidence of the expert witnesses. The court, however, granted an indefinite
stay of execution pending the Minister of Justice's response to their intended
On 27 July 1990 the Criminal Law Amendment Act, which amended the Criminal
Procedure Act of 1977, came into force. Among other changes, the new Act granted
the Minister of Justice the power to receive new evidence in a case where the
convicted person had exhausted all other avenues of appeal. After reviewing
that evidence the minister may, if he thinks that this evidence could affect
the conviction or sentence of death imposed on the convicted person, refer
the evidence to the original trial court. In considering this new evidence,
the trial court has the power to hear witnesses. The court is required to advise
the State President whether, and to what extent, the new evidence affects the
conviction or the sentence in question. The court is prohibited from making
public its conclusions. The State President, with the advice from the court,
may grant a free pardon, or substitute a conviction of lesser gravity and impose
a different sentence, or commute a sentence of death to any other punishment
provided by the law. Under this proceeding there is no appeal allowed against
the advice of the trial court or the decision of the State President.
No further action is needed at this stage. Thank you to all Urgent Action
participants who made appeals on behalf of Paul Bezuidenhout.