Shock after beach arrest

Liam Bulgen during the arrest. Picture: Supplied

A Muizenberg woman could face deportation after being arrested, along with her fiancé, during the level 4 exercise period.

Tereza Cervinkova and Liam Bulgen were charged with contravening the Disaster Management Act Regulations and are due to appear in court on Thursday August 6.

Ms Cervinkova, a photographer, is a Czech national and has lived in South Africa for a decade. Her visa expires at the end of July and if not renewed she will be forced to leave the country and take their 21-month-old daughter, Florence, with her.

“If they leave, I do not know when I will see them again. The Czech Republic has very strict rules and their borders are still closed, and no one is currently permitted to enter or leave the country,” Mr Bulgen said.

He said his family’s future had been forcefully changed and they now faced many challenges.

The incident, he said, was overwhelming and since their arrest on Monday May 4 they had not been out much and had been trying to move forward and not cause any unnecessary stress or pressure for themselves.

On the day of the arrest, the couple spent the early morning cooking food to donate to the nearby vulnerable Vrygrond community and decided to make use of the last 30 minutes of the level 4 exercise period, which is from 6am to 9am.

They left their flat, which is about 400m from the beach, at 8.30am, and walked along the boardwalk, all wearing masks and at an appropriate physical distance.

Ms Cervinkova wanted to walk ahead, to get some time to herself and Mr Bulgen took Florence out of the stroller. It was then, he said, that the child had run onto the beach.

He had chased after her and she had sat down on the sand and had had a tantrum.

Ms Cervinkova had rushed over to help and that was when they had been arrested, the couple said.

They said they had tried to explain what had happened but had been escorted to police vehicles, and Ms Cervinkova had started breastfeeding the toddler to calm her down.

Mr Bulgen was put in the back of a police van, and Ms Cervinkova was allegedly taken to the station in a car with no baby seat. The driver had not been wearing a mask, she said.

Mr Bulgen said their daughter seemed to be okay after the incident, but Ms Cervinkova was receiving trauma counselling.

Following the arrest, social media was abuzz with comments about the “hard-handed arrest”.

Muizenberg police station commander Colonel Vassie Naidoo said he had been the couple’s arresting officer.

He said following complaints from the public about people on the beach since Friday May 4 when level 4 kicked in, senior officers had deployed to the beach from 6am to 9am on Monday to monitor the situation.

He said that at the time of the arrest, Mr Bulgen and Ms Cervinkova had been sitting on the beach with their toddler and there had been no sign of them chasing after her.

All the officers present had been wearing masks, he said.

“I can’t comment any further as it is sub-judice now and the couple’s fate is in the hands of the court.”

But Mr Bulgen said they had witnesses to support their claims.

“We tried to respectfully explain what had happened and what was being done, and this resulted in a series of heavy handedness. We respect the law and did not intentionally break it.”

He also feels their safety jeopardised: some officers had not been wearing masks, he claimed, and the police had not allowed the couple’s daughter to leave the station even though suspects who had allegedly tested positive for Covid-19 had been held there at the same time (“No confirmed cases of Covid-19 at Muizenberg police,” Echo May 8).

Colonel Naidoo said his department would continue to serve the community without fear or favour and in the most professional manner possible without compromising the rule of law.

“We understand that people are emotionally frustrated due to the lockdown and that some are facing financial strain, but they have to abide by the law. We are fighting an invisible enemy that is taking lives and we have to enforce the law to prevent the virus from spreading.”

The police had been accused of picking on soft targets but they were simply arresting people for breaking the law, he said.

“It has nothing to do with soft targets, we are enforcing the law with the intent on saving precious lives.”