OPINION: Covering Krejcir: Bombs, body searches & a tech ban
It's fair to say that most people expected drama during Radovan Krejcir's sentencing in the High Court in Johannesburg this week, but covering the story made it all the more real.
Security guards had set up a body scanner outside the entrance to the courtroom. Everyone had to show identification and journalists had to present their media cards before being given a tacky coloured armband to indicate you had been 'cleared'.
Then all females were taken into the small witness rooms to be searched. The security guards showed no shame in making sure you didn't have anything well hidden in your under garments. Water bottles were also confiscated, with one guard saying, "there might be poison in the water".
Once seated in the public gallery I took out my laptop, ready to tweet. However, a few minutes in, a court official poked me in the arm telling me to "put it away!" It was later clarified that journalists would not be able to use their phones, iPads or laptops during proceedings. It made it difficult to report and frustrating because there were moments when Krejcir's words were just too good not be reported right there and then. There were the lucky few from the national broadcaster who were given access to their laptops and camera feeds, but generally no information was allowed to leave the court room until an adjournment. This is, of course, except for the live TV broadcast and live streaming.
About nine heavily armed policeman guarded the exits to the courtroom, while others in civilian clothes sat in the first bench of the public gallery. I felt sorry for those who had to hold their rifles throughout the two-hour long sentencing, without moving. At one point Krejcir told the judge that the courtroom was like a "circus when it came to security", and he couldn't understand why it was necessary. He believes there's a larger conspiracy against him, and he said the reports that he wanted to kill the judge and had planned an escape were all sensational and untrue.
On Monday afternoon he launched an application to have his handcuffs removed because his fingers were becoming numb, but the judge refused to hear the application at that point. Shortly after that a police officer rushed into the courtroom and whispered something to the prosecutor. Advocate Mashiane said something to the judge, but most of us hadn't heard what he had said. Judge Lamont immediately adjourned proceedings. Officers in the court were mumbling 'security threat', while court officials were trying to get everyone out. My colleague said, "Well, let's go see what this security threat is all about". We left the courtroom and were met by a panicked policeman who said we had to leave the building because they had received information about a bomb.
He said this loud enough for everyone to hear, but no one seemed to move. We all just looked at each other. Some confidently declared that this was just another delay tactic orchestrated by Krejcir. After a few minutes I decided to leave the building. Delay tactic or not, I wasn't going to take a chance.
Sniffer dogs were brought in and all cases at the High Court were adjourned for the day.
Krejcir believes he was treated unfairly by the judge because he wasn't given an opportunity to contact his lawyer or call witnesses. Lamont says he had ample time to arrange this. Krejcir's lawyer Cliff Alexander admits there were problems when it came to accessing his client and he says this infringed on Krejcir's constitutional rights.
Krejcir is appealing his 35-year sentence and conviction and will be applying for a bail application. This means that the drama, high security and body searches are likely to continue in the next few months. Eyewitness News reporter Gia Nicolaides rose to prominence with her coverage of the Marikana tragedy in 2012 for which she won numerous awards. Nicolaides was based in the North West Province for nine months to keep track of the story and has written a book on her Marikana journey. Follow her on Twitter: @GiaNicolaides
Eyewitness News reporter Gia Nicolaides rose to prominence with her coverage of the Marikana tragedy in 2012 for which she won numerous awards. Nicolaides was based in the North West Province for nine months to keep track of the story and has written a book on her Marikana journey. Follow her on Twitter: @GiaNicolaides