Supporters of flashy Nigerian pastor Tim Omotoso and protesters demanding he be denied bail rallied outside court yesterday as he made his first appearance following his dramatic arrest at the Port Elizabeth Airport.
The controversial televangelist will remain behind bars until May 3 as the Hawks continue their investigation into allegations of human trafficking and claims he lured girls and young women from various branches of the church he heads – Jesus Dominion International – to his home in Umhlanga Rocks, where he allegedly molested them.
Omotoso has been charged with two counts of human trafficking – in contravention of Section 71 of Act 32 of 2007 – as well as two counts of sexual assault.
Hawks spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Netshiunda said Omotoso had been arrested in Port Elizabeth because the case was registered in the city and the investigating team was based here.
Omotoso has hired prominent Port Elizabeth defence attorney Alwyn Griebenow to represent him. Wearing the same patchwork jacket he was arrested in on Thursday, the pastor appeared tired as he entered the packed courtroom.
Heavily armed tactical response team officers guarded various entrances to the courtroom as regional EFF members and ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) members opposing Omotoso’s release filled the corridor outside the courtroom. Inside, Griebenow squared off against prosecutor Advocate Zelda Swanepoel and argued for an earlier bail application.
Referring to Omotoso’s clamorous arrest at the airport on Thursday minutes after landing when he was handcuffed in the restroom and frog-marched outside, Griebenow said they had made arrangements for his client to arrive in PE in order to be interviewed.
“The accused was arrested at the airport after arranging to meet up with the police. The arrest reeks of malice on the part of the police and we had to file an urgent court order in order to have access to our client,” he said.
While Griebenow wanted the bail application to be heard next week, Swanepoel said investigations needed to take place in other provinces and the investigating team would not be available.
More than 100 ANCWL and EFF members protested outside the court building opposing bail for Omotoso, while about 200 members from his church called for his release.
EFF member Siyasanga Gidana said: “As the regional EFF, we believe these allegations are true. We are happy that he will remain behind bars because he victimised young girls.”
Another EFF member, Siya Matinise, said: “I blame [President Jacob] Zuma for this. There is still too much poverty and this would not have happened if these girls were not hungry.”
Buyelwa Mafaya, of the regional leadership of the ANCWL in the metro, said: “We are here to say Omotoso must not get bail. We are calling for all religious leaders to come together.”
ANCWL Nelson Mandela Bay convener Nonceba Sonjica said: “We were happy that our children are going to church, only to find out that they are being molested. We do not trust any of these churches here in Govan Mbeki Avenue.”
In support of Omotoso, Pastor Bishop Gagia, of the Port Elizabeth branch of Jesus Dominion International, said: “We have all been touched by his ministry and it has made a positive impact, that is why we are all here.
“God has used him to save the lives of criminals, prostitutes and normal everyday people.”
Pastor Chuks from the East London branch said: “Your TV [ Special Assignment feature] showed him as a molester and the whole country had this impression of him, now the courts say he is a human trafficker. Who is telling the truth, who is lying?”
Addressing the court, Swanepoel said the state was not in a position to proceed with the bail application next week “based on the accused’s personal circumstances”. “The investigation needs to take place in other provinces. The investigating team will not be here next week and only plan to return on May 1, which is a public holiday.”
She said they would be in a position to proceed on May 3 and that the state intended opposing bail.
But Griebenow argued that Omotoso was the head of an international ministry and a well-known public figure.
He said because the charges were a Section 6 offence, the onus was on the defence to compile evidence and therefore requested the matter proceed next week.
But Swanepoel said the state was entitled to a seven-day period to prepare for the bail application. Her request was granted. – Additional reporting by Devon Koen and Annelisa Swana