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article imageApartheid assassin 'Prime Evil' refused parole in S.Africa

By Stephanie Findlay (AFP)     Jul 10, 2014 in World

The most notorious assassin of South Africa's apartheid regime, a police colonel known as "Prime Evil", was refused parole Thursday after serving 20 years in prison.

Eugene de Kock was sentenced to two terms of life imprisonment plus 212 years for murder and other crimes as head of a police death squad targeting anti-apartheid activists.

Justice Minister Michael Masutha said a key reason why De Kock was refused parole was that the families of his victims had not been consulted.

"It is fair and in the interests of the victims and the broader community that the families of the victims are afforded an opportunity to participate in the parole consideration process," he told a news conference

De Kock confessed to more than 100 incidents of murder, torture and fraud before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which was set up in 1995 to consider amnesty for those who openly confessed their crimes during apartheid.

He is one of a handful of apartheid-era officials refused amnesty by the commission, which aimed to heal the emotional wounds inflicted by the brutal racism of the white-minority regime and the fight to overthrow it.

Jane Quin, whose sister was killed on orders issued by De Kock, wrote in the online newspaper Daily Maverick: "Let us not forget who De Kock is, what he has done."

Masutha said, however, that De Kock had "certainly made progress" in jail and that he could try again for parole within a year.

De Kock's lawyer Julien Knight said he will dispute the minister's decision in a court action.

"The whole question of victim participation in parole hearings is not applicable to Mr De Kock. The amendment to the act only came into effect in 2003 and only affects people that are sentenced after that date," said Knight.

- 'A symbolic prisoner' -

De Kock, a bulky man with a hooked nose and prominent chin, was commander of the Vlakplass "counterterrorism" unit, based on a farm in the outskirts of Pretoria, from 1985 to 1993.

In chilling testimony before the TRC in 1996, the highly decorated former colonel described the inner workings of the unit blamed for killing at least 70 people.

He calmly described scores of atrocities, from bombing the African National Congress headquarters in London to cross-border raids where he was applauded for killing women and children.

He expressed remorse, maintained he was following political orders, and turned on his former commanders -- a theme he returned to in his parole application.

South African Justice Minister Michael Masutha (2nd right) attends a press conference in Pretoria on...
South African Justice Minister Michael Masutha (2nd right) attends a press conference in Pretoria on July 10, 2014
Stefan Heunis, AFP

"I am the only member of the South African Police Service that is serving a sentence for crimes which I had committed as part of the National Party's attempt to uphold apartheid and fight the liberation movements," De Kock said in an affidavit.

"Not one of the previous generals or ministers who were in the cabinet up to 1990 have been prosecuted at all," he said.

"I would never have committed the crimes if it was not for the political context of the time, and the position I was placed in, and in particular the orders I had received from my superiors."

Piers Pigou, a director of the International Crisis Group, said he was "not surprised" by the refusal of parole.

"De Kock is a symbolic prisoner," he said.

"De Kock is absolutely right that others should have been prosecuted but because the government didn't take any other people down they don't have much to recalibrate the problem with."

Pigou, who served as an investigator for the TRC, said there was little political gain for the ruling African National Congress in releasing De Kock.

"Sentiment is mixed in the country, with some calling for mercy and others for retribution."

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