The case against BDS-SA director has been closed.
CHARGES have been dropped after three women accused the head of the Palestinian advocacy group Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions South Africa (BDS-SA) of sexual harassment.
Online publication Daily Vox had reported that the women alleged that Muhammed Desai allegedly harassed them all on the same night. One of them, Sang Hea Kil, an associate professor in the Justice Studies Department of San Jose State University in the United States, laid a charge against Desai at Brixton Police Station on March 24.
A spokesperson for the Brixton police confirmed this week that the case, involving alleged “indecent behaviour in public”, was investigated and subsequently closed on March 26.
BDS-SA is a movement that aims to achieve equality and justice for Palestinians by campaigning for the boycott of Israel. Desai, a co-founder of BDS-SA, graduated from Wits University in 2009.
The board of BDS-SA released a statement on the matter this week.
“We note the allegations made against our director … relating to events purported to have occurred,” it said. “We also note his denial and the closure by the authorities of the case.”
It said BDS-SA would initiate an independent investigation into the claims against Desai and the process would begin on April 15 and be completed within a month, a demand that had been made by the three women.
Earlier, the board had said it was aware of the allegations against Desai and wished “to assure those concerned and the public that we take this matter seriously”.
“When I learned that he had done similar things to the two other women the same night, we decided we needed to confront his board of directors,” Kil told Wits Vuvuzela.
She and the two unidentified women made specific demands including “apologies from Muhammed Desai to all three”, the board instituting an investigation and Desai’s suspension until an investigation had been completed.
“If BDS-SA is a just movement, then it will take this bad situation and become better and stronger about gendered oppression and sexualised violence,” Kil said.
Desai at the time strongly refuted the sexual harassment claims. He said: “Following an investigation the docket was closed, with the reason provided as ‘false case’.”
In his media statement, released on April 2, Desai said “the allegations made against me are baseless, contrived and defamatory”.
He said he was seeking legal advice on whether to take action against “the publication of libellous and false accusations”.
Kil was in Johannesburg to attend a study tour on Palestine hosted by the Afro Middle East Centre when she alleged the harassment by Desai occurred.
Daily Vox reported that on the evening of March 21 Kil and her colleagues went to Melville, Johannesburg, and encountered Desai there.
Kil told Wits Vuvuzela: “I did not know who Muhammed Desai was, or what he did. The meeting with Desai in Melville was a chance meeting.”
She told Wits Vuvuzela that “he saw my colleagues wearing ‘Free Palestine’ T-shirts and approached us on the street”.
Throughout the night, Kil claimed, Desai made advances to her. She rejected them, but she said he took her attempts to “shut down his romantic and sexual overtures” as a “turn-on instead of statements of facts that should be respected”.
The Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC), a Wits campus-based organisation affiliated with BDS-SA, also expressed concerns over the allegations.
It was necessary to address the allegations, as they “put the movement in danger when we do not address such situations when they are brought to us”, said PSC chairperson Nonkululeko Mntambo.
Kil told Wits Vuvuzela she was not aware of the charges being dropped. “It reflects poorly and more on the criminal justice system in SA in not treating sexual harassment as serious issue,” said Kil.
“There are no false allegations here, there are only three women who are seeking justice,” said Kil.
Kil told Wits Vuvuzela the board should suspend Desai from his duties until the investigation is completed.
- Wits Vuvuzela: New app to be used to anonymously report sexual harassment incidents, October 8, 2018