Priscilla jane, a South African civil rights attorney, was arrested and temporarily detained as she stepped off a plane in Johannesburg airport Monday morning. She was returning from this city where she had come to participate in a seminar at the American Bar Association meeting earlier in the month. Miss Jana is no stranger to police harassment. Her practice is restricted to political cases, and she has represented prominent black community and labor leaders in treason trials. From 1979 to 1983 she was restricted by a banning order, and she had been denied a passport for six years before this recent trip.
The meeting for which Miss Jana had journeyed so far was organized by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, an organization of private attorneys founded more than 20 years ago to provide legal assistance in civil rights cases in the American South. While continuing its domestic mission, the Lawyers' Committee, through its South Africa Project, has provided support to the small and struggling civil rights bar in that country. Prominent American attorneys have been sent as observers to trials there. South African lawyers, black and white, brave enough to take on civil rights cases, have received financial and professional support and the international attention that is an important factor in the fight against apartheid. The Lawyers' Committee work receives financial support from individual American attorneys, law firms, church groups, corporations, foundations and the United Nations.
During the ABA meetings, the committee brought more than two dozen lawyers and judges from South Africa to present papers and provide commentary on the legal aspects of apartheid. The judges, of course, were all white. Some are considered moderates on racial questions, but they are powerless, in the South African system, to overrule acts of parliament. The lawyers, black and white, are all active in the human rights struggle, and their work is not only difficult and unpopular, but dangerous as well. The conference was a model of what Americans can do privately through professional and religious organizations to reach out peacefully and constructively to South Africans.