FIVE Seventh Day Adventists including a Zimbabwean pastor have been jailed in Angola for kidnapping a native of that country, allegedly without a proper trial.
According to Maka, an Angolan newspaper, the five were sentenced to prison terms ranging between three and five years, without being charged or going for trial on December 29, last year.
The incident has sparked outrage and an online petition for the freedom of the churchmen has been launched.
By 5PM yesterday, 1 100 people had signed the petition.
Pastor Burns Sibanda originally from Bulawayo and his Zambian colleague Passmore Hachalinga were each sentenced to three years and six months.
“African missionaries, Burns Musa Sibanda from Zimbabwe who was serving as chief finance officer and his colleague Passmore Hachalinga from Zambia were both working for the church in Angola. Judge Antonio Francisco sentenced the pair to three years and six months each month for allegedly kidnapping another pastor,” says the online source.
“The executive secretary of the North East Union which is the second figure of the church hierarchy, Pastor Teixeira Vinte was sentenced to five years and one month in prison. Members of the church Garcia Dala and João Alfredo Dala were sentenced to four years and three months in prison.”
According to the statement, the guilty verdict was despite the prosecutor in the case submitting to the court that there was no basis for the case against the five accused as there was no evidence to support the allegations of either a kidnap or a plot to kidnap.
“In order to be aware of the abnormal behaviour of Judge Antonio Francisco, especially after reading the sentence — which he did not allow access to by the defendants’ lawyers — it is necessary to revisit the simulation of the abduction.”
Zimbabwe West Union Conference president Pastor Micah Choga confirmed that Sibanda is imprisoned in Angola.
“I can only confirm that he is jailed in Angola as I am waiting for the next high office for exact details of what is happening on the ground,” he said.
In a statement, the SDA church leadership in Southern Africa, the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division (SID), said an appeal against both the conviction and sentence has been lodged.
“The SID has become aware of a situation involving the arrest and court case against certain pastors, lay-persons and officers of the North-Eastern Angola Union.
“The court case emanates from the accusations and allegations against these individuals, of allegedly kidnapping a former conference president,” reads the statement.
“The matter went to court for trial and after several appearances, the court found the individuals guilty of a crime with which they were not charged and in the opinion of the lawyers involved and other observers there was insufficient and contradictory evidence to justify this conclusion.”