South Africa’s Prime Evil released from prison but being ‘held against his will’ by security forces

A lawyer acting for Eugene De Kock claims he has been released on parole after serving 20 years for the torture and murder of apartheid opponents but has now disappeared again.


Eugene de Kock, a South African apartheid-era death squad commander, was granted parole at the age of 66 after serving 20 years of his prison sentence Photo: Gallo Image

Eugene De Kock, the South African known as “Prime Evil” for leading an apartheid death squad that killed and tortured scores of people, is being “held against his will” by police after being released from prison on parole, his lawyer claims.

South Africa’s Justice Minister gave orders for De Kock to be released two months ago, saying he was remorseful and had helped find the bodies of some of the people he killed.

But De Kock’s lawyer said that while he has now been released from prison, he is now being held by the South African Police Service (SAPS) or state security agents in an undisclosed location, allegedly because of a “plot” against him.

De Kock, 66, was sentenced in 1996 to two life sentences for six murders and an additional 212 years for charges ranging from attempted murder to kidnapping and fraud. The brutal nature of his testimony to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee shocked his countrymen but won him amnesty from many of his crimes.

Towards the end of his time in prison, he has helped the country’s Missing Persons Task Team to find the bodies of hit squad victims, earning him early parole.

Julian Knight, De Kock’s lawyer, called for his client to be handed back to the Department of Correctional Services, which supervises parole.

If he is not, Mr Knight has threatened to file a writ of habeas corpus – a demand to the authorities to produce a missing person so that a court can decide whether his continued detention is legal. Such writs were used frequently by lawyers representing democracy activists detained by the apartheid regime.

“We are instructed by our client that, to date, he has not been released from custody and has not been handed over to Community Corrections to commence his parole,” Mr Knight wrote in a letter this week to Michael Masutha, the Minister of Justice who ordered his release on January 30.

“Our client also advises us that he is currently being held against his will.”

Mr Knight told The Star newspaper he had been given scant information about Mr De Kock’s whereabouts by the security services.

“They said initially that he was in protective custody because of a so-called plot against him,” he said. “His cell is locked with all his belongings still inside. This is not indicative of a person released on parole… All the paperwork at the prison indicates that he is in the care, custody and control of the SAPS; they have signed responsibility for him.”

Solomon Makgale, national spokesman of the South African Police Service, denied that it had De Kock in its custody.

Brian Dube, a spokesman for South Africa’s State Security Agency, refused to say either way.

The Department of Correctional Services did not respond to requests for comment.