Although there is a definite concern regarding suspected poachers being granted bail, the Deputy Prosecutor General Philippus Brink says their constitutional rights must also be observed.
The Deputy Minister of Environment and Tourism, Tommy Nambahu, recently expressed concern about the rate at which suspected poachers of endangered rhino are being granted bail, saying it defeats the purpose of the ministry’s anti-poaching activities.
He feels suspected poachers should be refused bail if Namibia is to win the fight against poaching of endangered wildlife such as rhino and elephant.
“Criminals out there: be warned. We will not leave any stone unturned. We are going to sharpen our weapons. Don’t come up with these kinds of stories that you need bail because your wife is pregnant while you are in the dock. When you were poaching did you not realise that you had a pregnant wife or what?” Nambahu fumed.
However, Brink told New Era in an interview yesterday that prosecutors do object to bail as far as they can but are also dependent on other role players such as the police to provide them with information that can constitute a legal objection to bail.
“The fact that it’s a wildlife crime does not automatically mean there are legal grounds to object to bail. When there are legal grounds such as interference with witnesses or evidence, or flight risk, then our prosecutors have standing instructions from the Office of the Prosecutor General to object to bail if serious wildlife crime is involved,” Brink explained.
Further, he said, as far as prosecuting wildlife crimes is concerned there are a number of successful cases especially in the Kunene Region while a number of cases are still on the court roll in Windhoek.
He could, however, not provide the number of cases that has been successfully completed and those still on the court roll.
“We are seeing some successes so far. I think the workshops (combatting wildlife trafficking) we held in the past few months made a difference. Prosecutors are now alert when dealing with wildlife trafficking cases. In the past some of these cases slipped through but now they are becoming aware of the seriousness of wildlife crime,” Brink noted.
Last year the Minister of Environment and Tourism, Pohamba Shifeta, also questioned the conduct of prosecutors who recommend bail for suspected poachers while investigations are still ongoing.
He said it is frustrating for law enforcement officials to hear prosecutors propose bail for suspects, after they have worked hard to arrest them.
The minister’s remarks followed closely on the decision by Okahao Magistrate Liwena Mikiti to grant bail to several of the 24 suspects arrested last year for illegally hunting rhino and elephant.
The minister was further frustrated by the fact that one of the accused granted bail is a police officer, who was granted bail of N$25 000.
Around 62 rhinos have been poached in the Etosha National Park since 2008. Among the accused released last year on bail of N$40 000 each were Tobias Sheetu Amunyela, 25, Lukas Akooko, 35, and Pineas Natangwe Awene, 39.