The Constitutional Court on Friday set aside the judgment of the Supreme Court of Appeal reducing the sentence for terrorist Henry Okah‚ with the result that all of the convictions the High Court entered were reinstated‚ together with the sentence of 24 years that the High Court imposed.
Okah‚ a Nigerian national with permanent residence status in South Africa‚ was convicted by the Johannesburg High Court in 2013‚ for two bombings that occurred in Nigeria in 2010‚ under the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terrorist and Related Activities Act. The High Court found he was a leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND)‚ an umbrella organisation of militant resistance groups in the south-eastern states of Nigeria.
Two car bombs in Warri killed one person in March 2010‚ while another two explosions in Abuja killed 12 and injured 36 on October 1‚[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]2010.
Okah was tried using terror legislation‚ which gives South Africa jurisdiction to try crimes committed outside the borders of the country. He was sentenced to 24 years.
The State went to the Constitutional Court‚ appealing against the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) judgment‚ which set aside Okah’s conviction for the Warri bombings and reduced his sentence to 20 years.
The SCA found that Okah had orchestrated the Abuja bombings from within South Africa and those convictions stood. However‚ it found that South Africa did not have jurisdiction to try Okah for the Warri bombings because he had conspired to commit the bombings while outside the borders of South Africa.
The SCA reasoned that the Act confers extra-territorial jurisdiction only in relation to crimes of financing terrorism.
In a unanimous judgment handed down on Friday‚ the Constitutional Court held that South Africa has extra-territorial jurisdiction to try terrorist offences that occurred outside South Africa – even beyond the financing of an offence. It reasoned that the SCA’s narrow interpretation of the term “specified offence” created a series of absurd results within other parts of the Act and undermined the Act’s purpose to give effect to South Africa’s international obligation to prosecute-or-extradite perpetrators of terrorist activities.
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