Three leaders of Seventh Day Apostolic Church in Mchinji have been sent to jail while 27 congregants have been fined, for contravening the Forestry Act.
The three, who only identified themselves as Apostle Maliko, Onesmus and Petulo, have been sentenced to two years imprisonment each while the 27 have been fined K50 000 each, or in default serve one year in jail.
The determination and verdict were made on Friday by Mchinji Second Grade Magistrate’s Court. Mchinji Police spokesperson Kaitano Lubrino, confirmed the development yesterday.
He said the faith group, in January, sought a temporary camping permit from the Forestry Department to conduct a three-month religious ceremony within Mchinji Forest Reserve, only to turn it into a permanent home.
“Their permission expired in March, but they could not be convinced to move out of the restricted area, which forced law enforcers to take the matter to court,” said Lubrino.
According to an assistant district forestry officer, the department conducted a preliminary value assessment and found that vegetation worth over K7.5 million was destroyed.
In court, the church members pleaded not guilty to charges of cultivating, rearing livestock, illegal cutting down of trees and digging a well in the forest reserve, which are contrary to sections 46 (a) and 64 (b) of the Forestry Act.
However, magistrate Governor Chiipanthenga said the faith group is guilty of the charges based on evidence tendered in court by the State.
On the other hand, the magistrate faulted the Forestry Department for issuing a permit of long stay in a protected area.
The convicts come from Katsache Village in Traditional Authority Zulu.