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Friday, 18 July 2008

Woman robbed, then thrown in jail by cops

By Alex Eliseev

Pistol-whipped and bitten by armed robbers at her shop, mother-of-three Yasmin Hajat expected police officers to bring her comfort. What she got instead was a cold night in jail.

Hajat, 42, a store manager in Joubert Park, Johannesburg, said this was the eighth robbery she has suffered.

Yet, she said, she was the one treated like a criminal.

"I'm angry," she exclaimed on Thursday, a few hours after being set free by the courts. "I feel like the criminals have more rights than citizens trying to protect their property."

Hajat's store, Joubert Park Wholesalers on Twist Street, was attacked on Wednesday afternoon by a gang of eight armed robbers. They hit her on the head while raiding the clothing and electronics shop.

They started to flee when one of her staff hit the alarm but Hajat jumped over the counter to try to capture one of them.

"We wrestled and he bit me," she explained. "My brother-in-law (Suliman Hajat) apprehended him and shut the roller doors."

The scuffle continued and, in the confusion, someone shouted that the gang was back, Hajat said. Suliman, 37, then fired a shot that hit the robber in the abdomen.

From there, an ambulance arrived to stabilise the intruder and take him to hospital. The police arrived and, Hajat claims, were arrogant and unwilling to listen to her story.

Suliman had used his own licensed gun but was charged with attempted murder. Hajat had armed herself with her husband's licensed pistol - and was slapped with a charge of possession of an unlicensed firearm.

The pair spent the night in jail before a prosecutor at the Johannesburg magistrate's court dropped all charges against them.

Hajat said the worst part of all was that she was arrested in front of her 18-year-old daughter.

Captain Bhekizizwe Mavundla justified the arrests by claiming that the shots were fired when police were already on the scene.

Mavundla claimed the suspect was trapped in the store and was already under citizen's arrest. Shooting him was therefore unnecessary, he argued.

Hajat said she had no idea there were police officers in the store as they were dressed in plain clothes.

Mavundla said this claim would be be investigated.

He added that the wounded suspect was under guard and would appear in court as soon as he was discharged.

According to the latest police statistics, business robberies have shot up almost 50 percent during the 2007/8 period.

Across South Africa, nearly 10 000 cases were reported.