- The 24 were accused of conspiracy and murder of a police officer, Garlus Mwita, when clashes erupted when the government was demarcating land for conservation.
Arusha. A joyful mood reigned in the Arusha Resident Magistrate’s Court yesterday when 24 people from Ngorongoro district were released after the prosecution dropped murder charges against them.
The residents of Loliondo division within the district were charged with murder and conspiracy in June, this year after a policeman died in violent clashes.
The murder case number 9/2022 was scheduled for mentioning where the prosecution was represented by lawyer Upendo Shemkole while the defence was represented by lawyers Mhyela Ally, William Ernest, Saikon Justine, Yonas Masiaya, Dennis Mosses and Michael Lengitambi.
In front of the Resident Magistrate Herieth Mhenga, Ms Shemkole explained to the court that the case has been scheduled for mention, but the director of public prosecutions had no intention to continue prosecuting the defendants and requested to remove the case from the court.
Section 91(1) of Criminal Procedure Act allows the prosecution to withdraw the intention to continue with the case.
Ms Mhenga said the court had no objection, but to agree to the request and withdraw the case and release all the 24 defendants.
The ruling brought jubilation to the defendants, defence lawyers and their family members who had come to the court to show support.
“We are pleased with the announcement on behalf of the defendants and the defence lawyers. It has taken a while for us to receive this,” said Mr Ally.
The 24 were accused of conspiracy and murder of a police officer, Garlus Mwita, when clashes erupted when the government was demarcating land for conservation.
Out of the 24 accused, 10 were ward councillors and Chairman of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party (CCM) for Ngorongoro District, Mr Nderango Laizer.
Read: Blow for Loliondo community as court upholds government move
Speaking outside the courtroom, the freed people expressed their happiness for the long-awaited day.
“I appreciate the DPP for coming to visit us in jail and promising to handle the case very immediately,” said Mr Joel Lessonu who is also a councillor of Malambo.
“I thank God that this has happened,” he said, adding that the DPP acted within three weeks as promised.
The Member of Parliament for Ngorongoro, Mr Emanuel Shangai, expressed gratitude for the decision to free the suspects and asserted that the community lacked direction while its leaders were imprisoned.
“Personally, as a member of parliament, I had a very difficult time. I cannot work when my fellow leaders are in jail and it is true that we cannot implement development projects because of the absence of the councillors who are the development planners in their wards,” he said.
Defence counsel discussed the possibility of the freed individuals filing a lawsuit against the government to seek restitution for the time they were incarcerated as their next course of action.
“It’s up to them to forgive or demand compensation. Sometimes these cases are political, so they also consider the other side of their life,” said Mr Ally.
“We were expected to hear that the officer’s suspected killer had been apprehended, but something strange has happened. The deceased’s family is calling for justice.,” he said.
The pastoralists in Loliondo in the northern district of Ngorongoro have accused the government of trying to force them off their “ancestral land” in order to organise safaris and hunting expeditions.
But the government has rejected the accusations, stressing it wants to “protect” 1,500 square kilometres of the area from human activity to help wildlife thrive.
Last week, the High Court in Arusha granted a permission for the Loliondo residents to file a court case against the government, challenging its decision to cordon off the land for wildlife protection.
They wanted the court to declare the government notice illegal and allow the residents to use the land.