Assault case highlights transphobia

On Friday, High Court judge Schimming-Chase on multiple occasions interrupted the State advocate to instruct him to refer to Von Cloete by her female pronoun.

17 May 2021 | Justice

JANA-MARI SMITH







WINDHOEK

Four years after a police officer unlawfully arrested and assaulted a Namibian trans woman in front of a police station as captured on CCTV footage, her N$200 000 lawsuit concluded with closing arguments on Friday.

The case, brought by Mercedez von Cloete, has highlighted long-term concerns by international organisations such as the United Nations (UN) and local human rights groups of the institutionalised abuse, discrimination and harassment by police against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

Judgement is expected on 15 November by High Court judge Esi Schimming-Chase. On Friday, Schimming-Chase on multiple occasions interrupted State advocate Ndiriraro Kauari to instruct him to refer to Von Cloete by her female pronoun.

At one point, she sternly interjected “her” after Kauari said “him” when referring to Von Cloete.

The court’s instructions at the start of the trial had been clear that Von Cloete would be referred to by her chosen pronoun, which the State ignored on several occasions.

The State also argued on Friday that Von Cloete had not produced evidence during the trial proving the impact of the police assault. In response, Schimming-Chase asked Kauari: “So the court must just ignore the kick and punches from the officer on the video evidence?”

Harassment

Von Cloete’s visit to a KFC branch in the early morning hours of 6 July 2017 resulted in her being taken into custody and driven to a nearby police station for allegedly being unruly in public.

During her trial last week, camera footage was presented to court showing a police officer, identified only as Constable Kavari, assaulting Von Cloete after they exited the back of the police van. The footage showed Kavari pulling her and forcefully holding her, while Von Cloete tried to free herself from his grip.

Eventually, the police officer is seen kicking her to the ground.

The State argued that the officer had acted in self-defence. Von Cloete allegedly “was the aggressor and acted violently towards Officer Kavari by throwing punches and swung her handbag at him. Officer Kavari retaliated in self-defence by kicking the plaintiff once”.

The State admitted that Von Cloete’s arrest had been unlawful, and suggested to the court that the matter be settled with a N$10 000 payment for the assault and unlawful arrest.

However, Von Cloete’s lawyer, Uno Katjipuka-Sibolile, said the incident was a “pure and simple act of harassment at the hands of the police for no other reason than that the plaintiff is a trans woman”.

During the trial, Von Cloete testified that she was assaulted in the police van on the way to the station while handcuffed. The officer punctuated the assault by calling her derogatory names related to her gender identity. The State denied this.

Von Cloete said the assault left her deeply traumatised, and that she has lived in fear of the police since then. She also said the assault was not the first case of bullying by the police.

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