THREE South African nationals employed by the British Sky News channel who were arrested in Zimbabwe carrying broadcasting equipment and were later sentenced to six months in prison have been freed after a High Court judge reviewed the sentence and commuted it to a fine.
The three South Africans, Bernet Hasani Sono (34), Resemate Chauke (46) and Simon Musimani (38) were freed last week after High Court judge, Justice Maphios Cheda, ordered that they pay fines of $50 billion each.
The three were intercepted and arrested in Mbalabala, 60 kilometres south of Bulawayo, while transporting broadcast equipment belonging to Sky News to South Africa. They were charged with “possessing equipment believed to be used for broadcasting without a licence”.
After the South Africans were convicted and sentenced by a local magistrate, the lawyers representing the three filed an urgent Hugh Court application seeking a review of the matter after they argued that the sentence passed on the three was excessive.
In his review, Justice Cheda said the presiding magistrate in the matter had misdirected himself by imposing a custodial sentence and said the matter under
review called for a non-custodial sentence.
“I have perused the record of proceedings in this matter and note that indeed the learned trial magistrate misdirected himself by imposing a custodial sentence in circumstances where justice called for a non-custodial sentence,” Justice Cheda said in his judgement.
“Judicial offices have been advised by both this court and the Supreme Court that custodial sentences should only be imposed in very serious offences, of which this one is not. I agree with both counsels that the sentences passed are unduly harsh in the circumstances where justice called for non-custodial sentence.”
Justice Cheda in commuting the sentence said each of the accused should pay a fine of $50 billion but maintained that they should forfeit the broadcasting equipment and the motor vehicle that was transporting the equipment to the state.
The three South Africans had pleaded guilty to contravening Section 33 (1) of the Postal and Telecommunications Act, Chapter 12.03.
One of the two lawyers representing the three, Tavengwa Hara, said his clients were deported immediately after paying the fines.
“My clients were deported the same day they paid the fines after the review by Justice Cheda and we are happy that the High Court saw the initial judgement as excessive,” Hara said.
By Loughty Dube