Lawyers for Sheikh Ponda Issa Ponda asserted in court on Thursday (February 21st) that charges pending against Ponda are civil and not criminal, Tanzania's Daily News reported.
Ponda, secretary-general of the Council of Islamic Organisation, has been charged with 49 of his followers with illegally occupying a plot of land owned by Agritanza Limited, which his lawyers contend is a land ownership dispute that should be treated as a civil case.
"For sure, in this case there is a dispute on legal ownership of the plot," Ponda's lawyer Tahaya Njama said, alleging that police should have brought the dispute to a land tribunal.
Witness for the prosecution Senior Superintendent of Police Ame Anange Anoquie argued that the occupation of the plot was clearly a criminal act, and police acted properly.
"I was forced to believe that the accused committed criminal offenses because responsible land authorities evidenced that the legal owner of the plot was Agritanza Limited," he said. Anoquie said Ponda and his followers failed to provide any documents proving their ownership of the land, while the land division in the office of the Temeke Municipal Council confirmed Agritanza's ownership.