A Malawian court on Tuesday convicted two Chinese nationals, two Malawians and a Zambian over a huge cache of ivory and rhino horns.
Li Hao Yuan, 28, and Zhang Hua Qin,42, were found guilty along with Malawians Paul Mangwe and Tsogolani Samson and Zambian Frackson Kayoli Banda, a court document said, adding that the sentencing would take place on October 21.
They could get up to 30 years in jail. The Zambian defendant had already pleaded guilty and has received a four-year prison sentence.
The five men were arrested on December 2017 after being found in possession of more than 21 kilograms of ivory and $42,000 worth of rhino horns.
Poaching has decimated the world elephant population, which slumped in Africa from several million at the turn of the 19th century to around 400,000 in 2015.
According to conservation group WWF, as much as 60 per cent of all elephant deaths can be blamed on poaching.
There is a huge demand in Asia for tusks and rhino horns for its purported medicinal properties.
Malawi’s director of parks and wildlife Brighton Kumchedwa called it as a “very good development because these are the Chinese that have been causing havoc in the country.
“They have been accused of killing elephants and rhinos and, in the process, rendering Malawi being named as a country of primary concern for wildlife,” he said.
The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency echoed him.
“I am delighted to see the government of Malawi making such progress in its fight against organised wildlife crime. Malawi was recently identified as southern Africa’s principal transit and distribution hub for wildlife traffickers, and subsequent successes such as this are attracting positive interest and praise from the international community,” the agency’s executive director Mary Rice told reporters.
The conviction comes ahead of a three-day visit to Malawi by Britain’s Prince Harry and his wife Meghan from Sunday. The pair are due to visit the Liwonde National Park in the south of the country.
Ethiopia frees 63 critics, opposition prisoners jailed over alleged coup
“The Ethiopian government hopes to widen the political and democratic space in the country with the freeing” of these individuals,” a government spokesman said.
Ethiopia is set to release 63 high-profile critics and prisoners from jail, including opposition activists held over an alleged coup and other high-ranking dissidents that had previously been incarcerated.
A spokesman for the attorney general’s office said on Tuesday that investigations had been dropped against 63 individuals and they would be released from custody later this week “for the national good”.
“The Ethiopian government hopes to widen the political and democratic space in the country with the freeing” of these individuals, spokesman, Zinabu Tunu was quoted in an AFP report.
Among those to be released are cadres of the National Movement of Amhara (NAMA), an ethno-nationalist opposition group blamed for attacks last year that the government described as a regional coup attempt.
Hundreds were arrested in the aftermath of the June violence in Ethiopia’s north that left five high-ranking officials dead and heaped pressure on a government struggling to cope with ethnic tensions.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who had been praised for loosening control in long-authoritarian Ethiopia, and was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, was accused at the time of using the violence as a pretext to jail critics.
NAMA chairperson Belete Molla said their officials should never have been incarcerated in the first place, and welcomed the announcement of their release.
“We consider their imprisonment a politically-motivated act intended to weaken Amhara nationalism,” he told AFP.
Among others scheduled for release are activists from the Sidama ethnic group, which voted in November to form their own regional state after a long campaign for more autonomy.
Biniam Tewolde, a former deputy director of Ethiopia’s cyber intelligence agency INSA, who was jailed in 2018 for corruption, is also among those to be pardoned, his lawyer Haileselassie Gebremedhin told AFP.
Critics have accused Abiy of authoritarian tendencies, including locking up opponents, even as he embarked on sweeping reforms to foster a more open political and media environment.
Ethiopia is scheduled to hold elections in August and Abiy hopes to secure a mandate to pursue an ambitious agenda of political and economic reform.
But opposition parties and civil society organisations have questioned whether the elections will be peaceful and credible.
Ethnic violence has persisted since Abiy was appointed in 2018 following several years of anti-government protests.
Nearly 30 people were injured Sunday in an explosion at a pro-Abiy rally in Ambo, roughly 100 kilometres (60 miles) west of the capital, Addis Ababa.
Tanzanian journalist pleads guilty to tax evasion, freed after plea bargain
After Erick Kabendera acknowledged both crimes in court and agreed to fines of nearly 275 million shillings ($119,305.86), magistrate Janeth Mtega ruled he be freed.
A prominent Tanzanian journalist arrested in July was released on Monday after pleading guilty of tax evasion and money laundering in a case critics had said was politically motivated.
After Erick Kabendera acknowledged both crimes in court and agreed to fines of nearly 275 million shillings ($119,305.86), magistrate Janeth Mtega ruled he be freed, a Reuters report said.
“Finally I’ve got my freedom, it’s quite unexpected that I would be out this soon. I’m really grateful to everybody who played their role,” the 39-year-old investigative reporter said outside court.
In the charge sheet, prosecutors said Kabendera had with his wife – who was not detained or charged – registered two companies which were used as “vehicles of money laundering” without proper returns being filed.
Though his lawyers had originally rejected the charges, in October they said he was pursuing a plea bargain.
The reporter has written for international publications including Britain’s Guardian and Times and was known for pursuing politically-sensitive investigations.
One article last year published by the East African newspaper reported a rift in President John Magufuli’s government with the headline “No end in sight as Tanzania’s ruling party CCM goes for ‘dissenters’.”
After he was arrested at his home last year, the United States and Britain called the affair “irregular” and in violation of Tanzania’s criminal procedures law.
Rights groups saw the case as part of a pattern of tighter control on the media since the 2015 election of Magufuli.
“The outrageous fabricated charges against him show the intolerance of the Tanzanian authorities to any criticism,” Amnesty International said in a statement last year.
Magufuli’s administration has shut down newspapers, fined some critical outlets, arrested opposition leaders and restricted political rallies.
The government denies it is muzzling the media.
Several hours after the ruling, the journalist’s lawyer Jebra Kambole said he had paid the 100 million shilling fine for one of the charges and would pay the other within six months.
A third charge, of assisting a criminal racket, was dropped.
Held at the Segerea maximum security prison on the outskirts of the capital Dar es Salaam, the journalist had appeared in court more than ten times, sometimes appearing frail.
In September, Magufuli said that people held on charges of tax evasion, money laundering and other financial crimes should be freed if they confess and return the cash.
President Kiir, Machar agree to form South Sudan unity government on Saturday
“We had a meeting with the president on the outstanding issues. We have agreed to form the government on 22 Feb,” Machar, First Vice President-nominee said.
Former rebel and opposition leader, Riek Machar said he has agreed to form a unity government with South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir to meet Saturday’s deadline, following talks at state house on Thursday.
Before the announcement, it had been unclear if the Feb. 22 deadline would be met as key benchmarks of the 2018 peace agreement had not been fulfilled. The deadline had elapsed several times without an agreement between the two sides.
“We had a meeting with the president on the outstanding issues. We have agreed to form the government on 22 Feb,” Machar said.
Kiir confirmed the agreement, a Reuters report said.
“We have agreed to form the government,” he said after the meeting, adding that he will appoint Machar as first vice president on Friday.
“We are going to discuss the security arrangement for the protection of all opposition forces and members,” Kiir added.
All the members of the opposition will be given protection, he added. “And if there are things we have not agreed upon, we had agreed to resolve them. We shall finalise them incoming days,” Kiir said.
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