S African media raises doubts in WSF rape case
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S African media raises doubts in WSF rape case

Questions are being asked about why Salome Isaacs went to Desai's room so late in the night.

india Updated: Jan 20, 2004 22:58 IST

South African judge Siraj Desai, accused of raping a fellow delegate at the World Social Forum in Mumbai, imposed a hefty sentence on three young men found guilty of one of the most gruesome rape and murder cases in the country two years ago.

"All three accused must be subjected to the most stringent punishment possible. If I fail to impose such a penalty, I fail in my duty to society," Desai said as he pronounced two life sentences on Glenville Faro, 20, and one on Franklin Roberts, 21, for the murder and gang rape of Cape Town teenager Valencia Farmer.

Now Desai stands to lose face in the same society he has been serving in various guises as he stands accused of rape himself, languishing in a Mumbai jail.

In June 2003, Desai, a rising star in legal circles in South Africa, was the chief guest at the launch of the Civil Society Prison Reform Initiative, highlighting the urgent need to improve conditions in South Africa's overcrowded prisons.

"We cannot allow people to be behind bars for petty crimes," Desai said at the time.

But even as Desai now ponders this question in a Mumbai cell until he appears in court again Friday, questions are being asked in the South African media about the circumstances in which his accuser has willingly agreed to let the media use her name and publish details of the alleged rape.

Salome Isaacs, 26, a worker with the NGO Bela Bela Aids Awareness Trust, laid a charge of rape against Desai after she allegedly went to his room in a luxury hotel at Cuffe Parade in Mumbai at 3 am onSunday to discuss the programme of the South African delegation to the forum.

This followed a round of drinks in the judge's room by the group of 10, led by Desai as the deputy chairman of the Foundation for Human Rights in South Africa.

South African newspapers splashed the story on their front pages Monday, the Afrikaans daily Beeld headlining it "Judge in Jail."

Pictures of Isaacs, as well as those of her husband Mark David and their daughters Reeva, 7, and Yentyl (4 months), were also used alongside interviews with the husband.

Mark Isaacs said he had spoken to both his wife and Desai several times after she called him from Mumbai.

Isaacs said he had pleaded with Desai to apologise for the incident and they would forgive him and forget the whole thing because it would generate negative publicity for South Africa.

But Desai, according to Isaacs, steadfastly denied that anything had happened.

Desai also told the daily Star in an SMS that he was not guilty. "I am innocent. I find rape offensive," read the SMS.

But now a number of questions are being asked about why Salome Isaacs went to Desai's room at that time, and also her willingness and that of her husband to talk to the media.

Salome Isaacs said in an interview with Radio 702 in Johannesburg on Monday: "When I got (to his room) the door was already open because he was expecting me. I think he somehow got the wrong impression and he came on very strongly. There was kissing and holding. And there was a point when I said this was unacceptable behaviour and I wanted him to back off, but it continued.

"So there was a definite 'no', but it continued with the result that there was sex without consent."

Defending his wife's decision to visit Desai's room at 3 am, in another interview on Radio 702, Isaacs said: "If a woman wears a short skirt, does that mean I'm entitled to rape her?"

Desai is a prominent figure in the South African Indian community in Cape Town, serving on a number of social and community organisations.

Among them was the position of president of the educational institution, the Cape Technikon Council, patron of the South African Institute for Justice and Reconciliation and the board of the Southeaster Arts Festival.

As a high court judge, Desai has presided over a number of high profile cases. He also headed the Desai Commission of Inquiry that investigated alleged bribery of top government officials by a German businessman.

Desai appeared in a Mumbai court Monday and was remanded without bail until Friday.

First Published: Jan 20, 2004 11:12 IST