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Jeremy Vine in Johannesburg
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Monday, 10 July, 2000, 19:57 GMT 20:57 UK
Fury over police beating sentences
Johannesburg residents were divided over the police action
By South Africa correspondent Jane Standley

The Police and Prison Civil Rights Union in South Africa says it is outraged at what it calls the lenient sentences imposed on two South African policemen who were filmed by the BBC last year beating up a fatally injured criminal.

The two officers, who are white, were fined around 400 and 600 ($600 and $900) or a year's imprisonment for the assault on two black car hijackers.

The case caused outrage in South Africa, with opinion divided in support of the police and the criminals.

The old South African judiciary hasn't changed

Police and Prison Civil Rights Union
The Police and Prison Civil Rights Union said the sentences were shocking and showed that the old South Africa judiciary had not changed enough in the six years since apartheid ended.

The Johannesburg magistrate who handed down the fines cited sympathy for the conditions the police service is working under.

More than 1,000 officers are murdered every year. What shocked him, he said, was the inadequate support system for officers who needed treatment for stress.

Divided views

The case, which stemmed from beatings filmed by the BBC, caused heated debate in South Africa - much of it along racial lines.

The Star newspaper
The incident prompted heated debate in the South African media
A large number of white South Africans supported the officers, saying that many people in this country live in fear of extremely violent crime.

But other, mostly black, South Africans were angry and upset in seeing white police officers go beyond the rule of law in their treatment of black people.

The officers are still suspended from duty until a disciplinary hearing in connection with the incident last year.

They chased a car at high speed, which at the time they believed to have been hijacked.

When it crashed they pulled one of the fatally injured passengers from the car. Despite his injuries, they were filmed savagely beating him.

The second passenger is now serving a 15-year prison term for the hijacking, in which a gun was cocked several times at the car owner's head but jammed and failed to fire.

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