Supreme Court to review 50-year prison term

Ultra-long jail terms unconstitutional

30 July 2021 | Justice

JANA-MARI SMITH







WINDHOEK

A man serving a 50-year prison sentence for the panga murders of a Russian couple 13 years ago has been granted leave to appeal his ultra-long prison term before the Supreme Court.

This month, High Court judge Herman January granted approval to Ruben Tjombe to appeal his half-a-century prison term served on him in 2010 after his double-murder conviction.

In 2010, Tjombe, then 21, and his co-accused, Fritz Gaoseb (22 at the time), were each given a 25-year term for each of the two murder charges they were found guilty of, in addition to an aggravated robbery charge.

The convictions followed the brutal killings of Andrei Pastouchkov (50) and his wife, Svetlana Labanova (44), on their smallholding north of Okahandja in 2008.

Tjombe pled guilty to the murder of Labanova, who died after multiple panga strikes. Gaoseb pled guilty to Pastouchkov’s murder.

In his brief judgment issued this week, January said his decision to condone the late application was due “prospects of success” of the appeal, in light of a Supreme Court ruling three years ago banning ultra-long prison terms.

Tjombe’s lawyer argued that the appeal could only be filed years after the convictions because the Supreme Court ruling that sentences longer than 37.5 years were unconstitutional was not in place at the time of his client’s sentencing.

Unconstitutional

In 2018, the Supreme Court found that ultra-long jail terms, which left offenders without a realistic chance of freedom through parole while still alive, were unconstitutional.

When sentenced to a conventional life sentence, prisoners are automatically eligible for possible parole after 25 years, the court noted.

Meanwhile, in a fixed sentence, parole becomes possible only after having served two-thirds of a sentence, which with prison terms longer than 37.5 years, amounts to more than 25 years.

The country’s apex court ruled that imposing lengthy prison terms without the possibility of parole is a human rights violation.

Since the ruling, a number of prisoners have approached the court for a review of their sentences.

In 2019, Namibian prison authorities confirmed that at the time 52 prisoners were serving sentences ranging between 41 and 50 years long, while 37 prisoners were serving sentences of 51 or more years.