Supreme Court to review 50-year prison term
30 July 2021 | Justice
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 (then 22) were each given a 25-year term for the two murder charges they were found guilty of, in addition to an aggravated robbery charge.
The convictions followed the brutal 2008 panga killings of Andrei Pastouchkov (50) and his wife, Svetlana Labanova (44) on their smallholding north of Okahandja. Tjombe pled guilty to the murder of Labanova, who died after multiple panga strikes. Gaoseb pled guilty to the murder of Pastouchkov.
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 a ruling by the Supreme Court that sentences longer than 37 and a half years imprisonment were unconstitutional, was not in place at the time of Tjombe’s sentencing.
In 2018, the Namibian 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 and a half years, amounts to more than 25 years.
The Supreme 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, and 37 prisoners are serving sentences of 51 or more years.
Subsequent to the 2018 Supreme Court judgment, Tuhafeni Berendisa Kutamudi was given the green light by the High Court to appeal his 85-year sentence for triple murder handed down in 2005. Kutamudi would only become eligible for parole after serving 56 and a half years.
Other record-shattering sentences were those imposed on serial child rapist Quinton Pieters in 2015 - 110 years - and Sylvester Beukes, who was sent to prison for 105 years after he massacred eight people.
His brother Gavin Beukes was sentenced to 84 years, while Jeckonia Hamukoto is serving a 90-year term for a triple murder.
The 2018 Supreme Court judgment stressed that parole is not automatic and that the National Release Board must be satisfied that offenders meet the requirements for parole before being given the keys to freedom.
The judgement warned that ultra-long sentences were a tool judges applied to ensure that convicts do not stand a chance for release.