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Winnie wades in to stand by judge in rape row

Mumbai, Jan. 20: Winnie Mandela, who has flown down to Mumbai, today threw her substantial celebrity weight behind the South African judge arrested on the charge of raping a fellow South African delegate to the anti-globalisation conference here.

Accompanied by a South African lawyer and others, the former wife of Nelson Mandela descended on the Colaba police station where the high court judge will be held till January 23 to demonstrate in his favour.

Winnie, who met the 53-year-old judge from Cape Town for 20 minutes, said he had a blameless reputation in his country.

The judge has been accused of raping a 27-year-old AIDS worker — both are part of a South African delegation attending the World Social Forum and were staying at the same hotel.

In her complaint to the police, the woman, who is married with two children, said he forced her to have sex in his hotel room after the two had returned late on Saturday night from a pub where they had gone in a group.

The judge, who is of Indian origin, has denied the charge and said sex was consensual. He is not being named in this report because the charge has not been proved.

The woman, expected to fly back home tonight, has been on record, saying there was “kissing and holding” but when she asked the judge to back off, he did not.

Her husband has told a South African paper he is still willing to give their marriage a chance, though his wife has admitted voluntary physical intimacy up to a point. He believes, however, she was raped.

“I believe what she told me. I’m so mixed up and want to try and forgive,” he told The Star.

Both were put through medical tests and the report arrived today, but the police refused to disclose the details. They wanted to speak to the woman again, but could not say if she had left.

Around 10 other South African delegates staying at the Cuffe Parade hotel, who had accompanied the woman to the local police station, had checked out prematurely.

Before the police took away his cellphone, the judge had told another South African paper, the Cape Times: “I didn’t rape anybody…. I am confident that a fair court of law will acquit me.”

Cuffe Parade police appear to have rushed into the arrest before even conducting a preliminary inquiry. They also had no idea the man was a high-profile judge who would draw such heavyweight defenders as Winnie Mandela.

A sub-inspector at the police station said: “There were no marks on her body,” suggesting the lack of evidence of use of force.

The judge, who was in the running for the top judicial post in his country, is likely to be suspended if the charges against him are not dropped, his lawyer C.S. Irani said.

He claimed they knew each other from before and the woman wanted the judge to mediate in a matter involving a debt she and her husband had run up. When the judge refused to help, she made up the story, Irani said.

A source in Johannesburg questioned the versions put out by either side, dismissing the incident as a chance sexual encounter.

“The judge will be in some trouble with his family — a wife and three children — when he comes back to Cape Town and the woman will have some explaining to do, too,” he said.

Handing a hefty sentence in a rape case recently, the judge had said: “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.”

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