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Desperate plea over uganda arrests

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Families want SA government to ensure quick release of terror suspects, report Thabiso Thakali and Sapa

The families of the two South Africans held in Uganda on suspicion of terrorism have pleaded with the government to secure their speedy release. The Muslim Judicial Council and the Media Review Network have also asked Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils to intervene in the duo’s detention.

Hussain Bhayat, a cleric, and Haroon Saley were detained at Entebbe Airport on Monday morning while en route home from Kenya, where they had gone to do relief work under the auspices of the Crest of Hope organisation.

“We are pleading with our government to secure the release of our father,” pleaded Bhayat’s son Mahmood. “He has a chronic illness which requires him to take medication regularly and we are really worried about his wellbeing.”

Saley’s wife, who didn’t want her name printed, yesterday said her four children had been badly affected by the situation.

“We don’t know what is happening or has happened to him at all and the children are devastated by this,” she said. “I don’t understand how could a humble man who has devoted his life in helping others be arrested while doing good work for others.”

She said everybody in the neighbourhood who has known Saley for his work was asking the same question.

Mahmood said by yesterday afternoon the family had heard little from Foreign Affairs, except that the government was still trying to get more details from the Ugandan officials.

“My father is passionate about relief work and he has done it in most African countries for years now,” he added. “He always said he didn’t do this for fame, but for the love of it, and God to judge him.”

Bhayat (57) is an Islamic cleric in Lenasia, south of Joburg, while Saley (56) is a community leader from Azaadville, near Krugersdorp, on the West Rand. The two left for Kenya on August 12 and were expected back in the country on Monday.

Mahmood said they received the news of the arrest when they went to the airport to welcome the two home. They were reportedly stopped by the Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force in Uganda, and later handed to the chief of military intelligence.

Yousha Tayob, a spokesperson for the families, said it appeared the two were suspected of being Pakistani nationals travelling on South African passports. He said the families were transmitting personal documents of the two to verify their South African nationality.

The duo’s lawyer, Zehir Omar, said he was going to write a letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to draw her attention to the government’s constitutional obligation to protect its citizens.

Omar said he believed the arrests were “orchestrated by the Americans” in an effort to hamper the duo’s efforts to assist in the growing factor of famine.

Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa said no further details have been received regarding the exact circumstances surrounding their arrests.

Published on the web by Star on August 23, 2008.
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