Justice for Belmondo Wantete

Belmondo Wantete, an electrical engineer from the Congo, has lived in Ireland with his wife and young children for two and a half years, and has resident status. Since May 1st 1998 he has been subjected to the most appalling harassment and racism by the gardaí.

On May 1st 1998, his home was raided at 3am by a group of Gardaí. He and his family were subjected to extreme racist abuse. Eventually he was taken to Sundrive Road Garda station and held for twelve hours without access to an interpreter or a solicitor. He was then held in Mountjoy for a week before bail was arranged. He was subsequently charged with assaulting two Gardaí in his house during the raid. Mr Wantete has made a formal complaint about his treatment to the Garda Complaints Commission.

On June 10th 1998, he was arrested and charged under the Aliens Order 1946 with failing to carry ID. When the case came up in the District Court on 25th September 1998, the arresting garda admitted that he knew Mr Wantete well and had no doubt of his identity, but insisted he had the right to demand to see his resident's permit (Green Card). The judge ruled that the numerous forms of ID produced by Mr Wantete were sufficient according to the Aliens Order, as they confirmed his name, address and nationality, and she dis-missed the charge.

On September 6th 1998, Mr Wantete was taken from his house and brought to Sundrive Road Garda station. Members of Residents Against Racism and his lawyer arrived at the station with his identification papers. The gardaí still refused to release him despite the fact that he was identified as Belmondo Wantete and not the person named on the warrant. He was detained for five hours and eventually released without charge.

On numerous occasions over the past year Mr Wantete has been charged with offences such as not having motor tax or insurance or a driving licence. Each case has been an excuse to repeatedly drag him through the courts. On each occasion he has proved to the satisfaction of the courts that he did have valid tax, insurance, and driving licence. Belmondo Wantete has faced a nightmare of racist harassment. When his assault charge comes up for trial on 28 February 2000, he faces the possibility of lengthy imprisonment. Join us in calling on minister for justice John O'Donoghue to have the charges against Mr Wantete dropped.

Public figures give their views:

The case of Belmondo Wantete opens up an appalling vista; but there are times when an appalling vista needs to be confronted. This can only benefit society, the victims of injustice, and the police force itself. - Senator David Norris

I applaud all those who have assisted Belmondo and I will continue to make every effort to give Belmondo the support he deserves. - John Gormley TD (Green Party)

Please add my name to your list of supporters. It is very important that people make a stand against racism. - Patricia McKenna MEP (Green Party)

May I express my solidarity with Belmondo Wantete and all who struggle for justice with him. - Tony Gregory TD

It is essential that we make an unambi-guous stand against the scourge of racism. Over the years many Irish people have worked and lived abroad. Many experienced racist abuse, and fought to build their lives as immigrants against the odds. We must embrace the future as members of the EU and ensure that all can play a role in our multicultural society. - the late Pat Upton TD (Labour)

We need a pro-active policy to tackle racism and xenophobia. There are 800,000 people of Irish extraction living in Britain. We must treat these immigrants who live here as we would expect Irish people living abroad to be treated. - Gay Mitchell TD (Fine Gael)

Racism is essentially an evil that is born out of the ignorance of cultural, religious and ethnic diversity and it must be fought on every occasion it raises its ugly head. - Councillor Eric Byrne (Labour)

All that we are asking is that Ireland allows those seeking shelter to live their lives in peace in the same way as hundreds of thou-sands of our people found homes in many different lands. - Joe Higgins TD (Socialist Party)

Let us all make it clear that we will not tolerate racism of any kind. We live in a multicultural Ireland that enriches us all. It is no threat to our native culture and heritage. It strengthens it, just as the contributions of Irish people have enriched and strengthened other societies. - Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin TD (Sinn Féin)

The way Belmondo Wantete has been treated is a disgrace. Irish people should hang their heads in shame at what is being done in their name. - Eamonn McCann (SWP)

If we fuel the flames of racism we will burn in the fire, if we extend love and charity we will know peace of mind. - Christy Moore (musician)

Residents Against Racism was set up to campaign for justice for Belmondo Wantete. It is unconnected to any political party and is open to anyone who agrees with its objectives.

Over 500 signatures to the Residents Against Racism petition calling for all charges against Mr Wantete to be dropped have been handed in to the minister for justice. The following people and organisations support the call:

Patricia McKenna MEP (Green Party) Joe Higgins TD (Socialist Party) John Gormley TD (Green Party) Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin TD (Sinn Féin) Tony Gregory TD Senator David Norris Senator Joe Costello (Labour) Senator Brendan Ryan (Labour) Councillor Eric Byrne (Labour) Councillor Larry O'Toole (Sinn Féin) Eamonn McCann (SWP) Michael O'Reilly, Irish Secretary, ATGWU Graphic Print and Media Union, Dublin branch MSF union Christy Moore Philomena Lynott (Phil Lynott's mother) Richie Campbell (Shelbourne FC) Andy Storey (AfrI: Action from Ireland) Rialto Community Drugs Team Rialto Youth Project Congo Solidarity Group Association of Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Ireland Comhlámh Irish Council for Civil Liberties Anti-Fascist Action Anti-Nazi League Anti-Racism Campaign Immigrant Solidarity National Federation of Campaigns Against Racism Sport Against Racism in Ireland Students Against Racism Cork City Unemployed and Workers Action Group

The Stephen Lawrence case

Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager, was stabbed to death by racists in south east London in 1993. The police continuously stalled the investigation, and covered up their own failures. The report of the official enquiry concluded that the police were guilty of institutionalised racism. Chris Myant, head of the Commission for Racial Equality, warned that the gardaí also had lessons to learn. "With people moving from other parts of Europe and from around the world," he said, "either as refugees or simply as jobseekers in the Celtic Tiger, the guards have got to learn to police a society where people are not all white."

A spokesman for the gardaí claimed in reply that they had never received a single complaint of racism. But the case of Belmondo Wantete shows that this is not true, and that police racism is far from being confined to Britain.

What the papers say:

Even if his name is cleared of any criminal charges brought against him, this man's life will never be the same again. Local concerned residents who have formed the Residents Against Racism action group deserve much credit for their unselfish work... It would be a shame if racism was alive and well in our community. - editorial, Local News, June/July 1998.

Belmondo's story may yet provide a glimmer of hope in the sorry saga of Irish racism.... Belmondo's neighbours have become so concerned at what is happening to the family that 60 people have taken the unprecedented step of signing a petition "condemning" the racist harassment of the Wantete family by members of the Gardaí - The Guardian Weekend, October 3 1998

...we must ensure that those who are employed by the State to deal with refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants on our behalf treat everyone with whom they come in contact, fairly, with dignity and as equals. - Hot Press, 17 March 1999

What you can do:

UPDATE: This extract is taken from the Newsletter of Residents Against Racism.


Belmondo 3; Gardai 1

Belmondo Wantete, the Congolese victim of state racism (see last edition of RAR newsletter) was vindicated on 13th of October, 2000. Just to recap: On May 1st, 1998 at 3:30 am, the family home in Drimnagh, near Crumlin, was raided by a group of Gardai, some of whom were armed. The whole debacle was a case of mistaken identity. The name of the warrant was not his name, the address was not his address, the suspect was unknown and unconnected to him.

The trial began October 9th, 2000, lasting 5 days during which time both Belmondo and his wife Delly underwent hours of most distressing cross-examination. It emerged that they were no strangers to armed representatives of the State arriving in the middle of the night. Both were tortured in their own country because the whole family opposed Mobuto's dictatorship. Belmondo's father, sister and next-door neighbour were most brutally murdered in front of him. Not surprisingly, they told the gardai to come back the next morning.

Belmondo recounted, through an interpreter, how the gardai stuck a gun through the letterbox, broke in, beat him and called his children 'little black monkeys'. He also described being dragged naked into the street to the police van, when Delly ran out with tracksuit bottoms for him.

Detective Sgt. Augustine Keane, the main witness against Belmondo, who was the senior garda in charge of the operation, kept reiterating in court that he still believed that items in Belmondo's house were stolen. This was reported at the time in the press and on TV3 as 'stolen property' - a travesty, as no charges relating to these items were ever made. Members of RAR made this known to the defending legal team, who tried to have the case dismissed, as the jury may have seen or heard the false media reports. The judge ruled that she would make it clear to the jury that there were no stolen goods in the house. One gard agreed that 3:30 am was an unusual time for a search, and said that the gardai feared that the stolen property would be moved. As defense counsel Niall Durnin said: "you don't exactly need a removal van at dead of night to shift stolen credit cards". Belmondo himself said that he smelled drink on the breaths of some of the gardai, which they denied. Incidentally, the raid occurred at the time of the blue flu, when they were on strike.

At no time did they ask Belmondo's name. Even with his lack of English, he managed to point out that the name, which he saw on the warrant, was West African, not Central African. The gardai said he fetched what looked like a table leg from under the bed and threatened them with it. The object was a pestle, used in cooking, and Belmondo said one of the gardai fetched it from the kitchen, swung it around and said "is this what you use to kill people?" and then indicating his gun, "like this". There were also conflicting stories from the Gardai about where Delly was during this scuffle, what Belmondo was wearing when dragged out-doors, and whether he was handcuffed from behind or in the front. There was consensus that he wasn't wearing any shoes, although previously the Gardai said he injured one of them by kicking them in the shins. The Gardai claimed they were 5 in number, Belmondo and Delly both said that there were 8 Gardai in all. Delly said their oldest child has pointed at the members of the Gardai in the street and said, "they are bad men".

Belmondo was arrested, held for 12 hours without lawyer or interpreter, sent to Mountjoy prison, and released without charge. He lodged a complaint against the Gardai, and only then was he charged on 4 counts. The jury verdict read as follows:

Count 1 - Assaulting member of the Gardai - NOT GUILTY

Count 2 - Assaulting member of the Gardai - NOT GUILTY

Count 3 - Resisting Arrest - NOT GUILTY

Count 4 - Obstruction - GUILTY

Judge Yvonne Murphy gave him a 6-month suspended sentence on Count 4. She also made a sympathetic closing speech, where she said that Belmondo was of good character both before and after this episode. She wished him good luck in his exams (he was training to be an electrician - and his postponed court case eventually took place on the day of one of his exams) and said it was understandable that he did not open the door at 3:30 am, given the traumatic experiences the family had suffered in their own country.

Belmondo will, of course, appeal against charge 4. During the trial, the defence counsel suggested to the gardai that they were "gung ho" during the raid. He was right. The whole incident sounds like a fifth-rate movie with John Wayne rounding up the Vietcong. RAR are currently collecting signatures supporting the appeal. The complaint against the Gardai cannot be heard until this is over, and hopefully won. It will be the Gardai investigating the Gardai. Cynics that RAR are, we are not gambling on a victory celebration for that one.

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