Thursday, November 15, 2012

Tanzanian Muslim cleric pleads not guilty to incitement

By AFP

A controversial Tanzanian Muslim cleric and his 49 supporters Thursday pleaded not guilty to charges of inciting violence, criminal trespass and theft.

The cleric, Sheikh Ponda Issa Ponda, and his followers are accused of invading private property and inciting violence that led to the destruction of property in the Tanzanian commercial capital of Dar es Salaam.

"On October 12, this year they invaded a plot of land... occupied it illegally, stole and destroyed property worth over 56 million shillings (35,440 dollars)," prosecutor Tumaini Kweka said in court.

The city had been tense following last month's arrest of Ponda, the head of the Jumuiya ya wa Islamu, or the "community of Islam", a group not recognised by the Tanzanian government.

Soon after he was arrested, his followers staged demonstrations in the city aimed at seeking his release.

Ponda is accused of inciting violence during October demonstrations in Dar es Salaam. The clashes there were sparked by rumours that a 12-year old boy at a Christian school had urinated on a copy of the Koran, according to the police.

The court confirmed an earlier ruling denying Ponda bail following objections from the prosecution.

All the other co- accused except one were released on bail.

The case resumes on November 29.

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