WHEN suspected criminals of serious crimes such as rape and murder are granted bail, even though there is the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, the society they are released into become potential victims and prison seems like a safer place for us.
And yet, this has become the reality of every law-abiding Namibian citizen, as criminals charged for serious offences are repeatedly given opportunities to continue roaming the streets and rain more terror down, due to the often ineffectiveness of the police and a weak bail system that has made laws ineffective in protecting the public against potential danger.
This week, the public learned 20-year-old Gervin Gawanab, who is accused of raping and mutilating a nine-year-old girl over the weekend, was out on bail for other cases of rape when he committed the heinous crime.
According to the police, his first alleged rape dates back to 2015. For that case, he was granted bail in the amount of N$600 and the charges against him were later withdrawn after witnesses failed to appear in court, giving the accused the freedom to sexually violate and strike again.
And it appears that is exactly what happened, when again in 2017 he was charged, not with one, but two separate cases of rape and again granted bail in both matters.
Apart from the piling rape charges against him, Gawanab was also arrested and charged in three other cases, including assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm and housebreaking. All three charges were withdrawn, either because investigations were not completed or the police docket in the matter was not taken to court on time.
When crime goes unpunished, particularly major crimes, there is an injustice. The fabric of society rends and the law-abiding majority suffer while the rule of law becomes a mockery.
The only shred of justice for those who begged for street justice, it appears, came when inmates reportedly assaulted Gawanab for his crimes a few hours after police locked him up on Tuesday. It is indeed very telling when prisoners find a fellow inmate’s crimes so appalling and inhumane that they decide to take justice into their own hands.
Gawanab, assuming that he is guilty even before the courts can proclaim him a convict, probably felt what most repeat offenders do when committing crimes… invincible and untouchable, because crime is no longer costly to them. A bit of time served, coupled with unenthusiastic police investigators and tolerant upholders of justice eventually leads to cases being dropped and prison doors flung wide open for criminals to walk away as free agents. Too many criminals have access to freedom in our streets, where they can plunder, rape and even kill the innocent. A basic function of our laws is to protect lives and to keep the law-abiding separate from those who refuse to conform to the requirements of civilization.
But good citizens were failed. Again.
So, do we blame lenient presiding officers, or should prosecutors take a portion of the blame for not pushing harder to keep offenders of serious crimes locked away until they go to trial? Perhaps a lack of cooperation and coordination between law enforcement and prosecutors is the problem. When police seek only arrests and not convictions, prosecutors will not have ammunition to put criminals away.
Wherever the fault lies, in this particular case it is crystal clear: a man who should have been behind bars walked free, a young girl has been left to pick up the pieces of her life, and the public’s distrust of the police and the courts is likely to increase.
Criminals who show a penchant for violence must be kept away from the innocent, and our judiciary must be reliable enough to make potential rapists more reluctant to travel the path taken by Gervin Gawanab when he destroyed yet another innocent life in the most inexcusable and brutal fashion.