19 October 2012

Tanzania: Ponda in Court Over Dar es Salaam Riots

Photo: The Daily News
The secretary of the Council of Muslims' Organisations Sheikh Ponda Issa Ponda and 49 followers have pleaded not guilty to all charges.

THE secretary of the Council of Muslims' Organizations, Sheikh Ponda Issa Ponda with his 49 followers were on Thursday arraigned at the Kisutu Resident Magistrates' Court accused of five charges.

The State Attorney, Mr Tumaini Kweka, told the court that Sheikh Ponda and his followers are accused of committing conspiracy, trespass and criminal possession of property owned by Agritanza Limited at Chang'ombe in Temeke municipality.

Other charges include the stealing of building materials from Agritanza limited including 1,500 bricks and 36 tonnes of aggregate and iron bars, all worth 59.6m/.

The fifth charge was only for Sheikh Ponda in which he was accused of inciting people to commit an offence.

Sheikh Ponda and his followers denied all charges which are alleged to have been committed between October 12 and 16, this year. Tumaini Kweka showed a certificate from the Registrar of Courts that others can be bailed out except for Sheikh Ponda on grounds of his safety.

This raised objections from the defence lawyer, Mr Juma Nassoro, who argued that the reasans were too flimsy and that bail was constitutional right. Resident Magistrate Stewart Sanga said that he could not make any decision on the objection raised by the accused's lawyer because he was not the one who would preside over the case. The presiding magistrate would be Ms Victoria Nongwa.

The case was adjourned to November 1, this year and will be presided by Ms Nongwa who had an emergency yesterday. The defence lawyer, Mr Nasoro, appealed to Muslims to be patient while the court was determining the case. 'Muslims are not supposed to panic.

They have to be patient because we will eventually see who is right. I hope justice will be done," he said. The Muslim cleric, Sheikh Ponda, was arrested on Tuesday this week because of instigating chaos and breaching peace in the city as it was stated by Dar es Salaam Special Zone Police Commander, Mr Suleiman Kova. Meanwhile, on Wednesday night a church watchman was beaten and some sound equipment stolen.

Another church was also burned by unknown people in Dar es Salaam. The incidents involved the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania (ELCT), Yombo Parish in Kiwalani area, Ilala district and the Faraja International Gospel Church of Yombo Makangarawe in Temeke district.

The ELCT Yombo Parish Pastor in-charge, Joshua Jaha, told the 'Daily News' that on Wednesday night a group of eight people raided the church and went straight to the altar. "Four people entered through the main entrance and four others jumped the fence.

When our watchman tried to stop them he was beaten with a heavy object. He suffered injuries," he said. The pastor named the watchman as Daniel Nkya (52). He added that in the process he lost his mobile phone and that the invaders decided to walk away without causing any damage to the church. 'We reported the matter to police and the watchman got a PF3 and was treated at Amana Hospital.

He was discharged this afternoon (yesterday)," he said. He said that the incident took place at around 2:00 am and that there was another watchman who goes by the name of Richard Temba who was not hurt in the incident. The 'Daily News' witnessed tight security mounted by seven armed plain-clothes policemen at the church and peace prevailed for the whole of Thursday.

At Faraja International Gospel Church, Pastor Yohana Kusaga said that sound equipment worth 5.8m/- was burned during the night of Wednesday. "I was at home and church neighbours called me saying that the church had caught fire. By the time I got here I found that the fire had already been put out by good Samaritans who broke the wall and used sand to put out the fire," he said.

The burned equipment included some microphones, a mixer, an amplifier and three chairs. Mr Kusaga noted that the church is eight years old and that the relations with the neighborhood have been so good and that there were no threats prior to the incident. The Temeke Regional Police Commander (RPC), David Misime, confirmed the incident and that police had taken the remnants of the burned equipment as exhibits.

These incidents come a few days after the chaos broke out in Mbagala in the outskirts of Dar es Salaam, in Temeke district where churches were burned by angry people as a retaliation to an incident that saw a young boy urinating on a Qur-an. Clerics of the ELCT have described the recent looting and burning of churches in Mbagala as 'persecution' against churches.

In a strong-worded statement issued by the clerics in Dar es Salaam yesterday, the Lutheran Bishops said the incident was a result of "seeds of destruction" planted on a "fine garden" which are now producing "sour fruits." Led by the Head of the ELCT, Bishop Alex Malasusa, the clergymen blamed the government for not taking action on religious incitement and crimes perpetrated by some people in the country.

"The silence of state organs on various crimes committed by the perpetrators as well as breach of legislations on the media are among factors to blame for what happened in Mbagala," read part of the statement which has been seen by 'Daily News.' They, however, called for calm among the Christian community in the country and urged against retribution.

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