'I'm not sorry we arrested Muslims, I'm apologising for how it happened': Bheki Cele

Police minister Bheki Cele said his apology to the Muslim community has been misinterpreted.
Police minister Bheki Cele said his apology to the Muslim community has been misinterpreted.
Image: Alon Skuy

Police minister Bheki Cele has moved to clarify he is not apologetic about the arrest of a group of Muslim worshippers for flouting lockdown regulations by gathering for prayers in Mpumalanga last week.

Cele said he had been criticised for seemingly apologising to Muslims but not to Christians.  Among the criticism doing the rounds on social media was that no apologies were forthcoming for Christians who were arrested after being found breaching lockdown regulations, nor for people who were gathering for traditional ceremonies.

“The minister has noted with concern the misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the statement issued in relation to the religious gathering. He has subsequently emphasised that no-one is above the law, and that the Muslim community is not receiving preferential treatment as opposed to other religions,” a statement from Cele’s office read.

“If they, or any other religious group, host another gathering, police will arrest them again but without being blasphemous in executing their duties. This cuts across all gatherings be they religious, cultural or otherwise.” 

The arrest of 24 worshippers was captured on camera, apparently by a police officer. The video went viral on social media. It showed police officers entering what appeared to be a mosque at Masibekela in the Mbuzini policing jurisdiction of Mpumalanga. Shoes had been left outside the mosque.

The officers ordered the congregants to lie down before hurling remarks, asking them whether they thought the president was crazy or whether Muhammad was bigger than President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Cele apologised for the blasphemous remarks which had offended Muslims.

“Our members should always execute their duties in line with the police code of conduct. From the beginning of the state of disaster through the lockdown, we have received reports about complaints of incidents where some of our members are alleged to have acted wrongfully. A number of these reports are being investigated both by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate and internally,” Cele said.

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