A Chinese national has filed a challenge at the Malawi High Court against a 14-year jail sentence, which a lower court gave him last month after he was convicted of three wildlife crimes.
Lin Yunhua is allegedly a leader of an African wildlife trafficking syndicate known as the Lin-Zhang gang, named after the husband-and-wife leaders. It has operated out of Malawi for at least a decade.
Malawi authorities arrested Lin in August 2019 following a three-month manhunt. Police said he was found with the horns of five rhinos chopped into 103 pieces.
Last month, the magistrate’s court in the capital, Lilongwe, handed down the prison sentence.
Chrispine Ndalama, Lin’s attorney, said, “I can simply say that we have filed the notice of appeal, but we are still consulting with our client on how to move forward. But we haven’t yet filed any documentation; we just filed the notice of appeal, because you need to appeal within the period of 30 days after the judgment has been delivered.”
Ndalama said the appeal asks the court to reduce the 14-year sentence on the ground that Lin was a first-time offender, among other reasons.
In all, Malawian authorities have sent 14 people to prison in connection with the trafficking syndicate, including Lin’s wife and son-in-law.
Lin’s daughter was also arrested in December 2020 for alleged money laundering offenses. Her case is ongoing.
Wildlife campaigners have commended Lin’s sentence, saying it would help deter other would-be wildlife traffickers from committing similar crimes.
Mary Rice, executive director of the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency, an organization campaigning against environmental crimes and abuse, said the 14-year sentence was appropriate.
“I think to be honest the sentence is fair and commensurate with all charges filed against him,” Rice said. “So I am sure the prosecution will counter the appeal, and I guess the case rumbles on.”
Brighton Kumchedwa, director of Malawi’s Department of National Parks & Wildlife, said the government was ready to face Lin again in court.
“In the first place, it is his right to appeal,” Kumchedwa said, “but yeah, we are very ready for him, just as we did in a lower court. It is our hope and prayer that probably [we will] come be back victorious.”
Kumchedwa said the country is now experiencing a decline in wildlife trafficking.
“I think following the hefty sentences that are coming from the courts, we are seeing a reduction indeed of these cases related to ivory trafficking,” Kumchedwa said. “I don’t have a figure on top of my head, but suffice to say that there is a decline.”
The High Court has yet to set a date to hear Lin’s appeal.